Sean Meriwether's Reviews > The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
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"...I realize how open we are to the persistent message that we can avert death." -- Joan Didion from The Year of Magical Thinking

This is my first exposure to Didion. While I was reading Magical Thinking I watched a very favorable documentary about her, The Center Will Not Hold , in which this book is described as a non-believer's guide to grieving. What I am taking away from this meditation on the sudden death of a loved one, in this case Didion’s spouse and writing partner of nearly 40 years, is that death itself is not the tragedy. You may be numb to reality and surrounded by people who love and help you through the funeral. The lingering tragedy lies in the constant reminders of your loss that occur when you are alone over the months and years that follow, and when people grow impatient with your loss and advise you to move on. These memories may be triggered by completely random things: places stayed, books read, and objects that her spouse owned — these all have the potential to become emotional landmines (she refers to the maelstroms as "vortexes"). Didion journals her “irrational” responses in this memoir, trying to make sense of what cannot be rationalized. For instance, she learns the process of letting go of her husband’s clothes is an acceptance that he will never return; she had refused to part with his shoes for fear he would not have them when he came back.

Looking at death with a journalistic lens may make many feel uncomfortable, especially the repetitive and often mundane details that she must now face alone. Over the course of the memoir she tries to reconstruct the last moments of her husband's life, documenting the time of the 911 call, the amount of time they tried to resuscitate him, the terminology that was used. Didion obsesses over a clear timeline of his last hours, only to expand the narrow focus into the months and years earlier, in which the clues to his “sudden” death were already known; he had been diagnosed with a heart condition, which his doctor referred to as “a widow maker”. It is her emotional distance, however, that allows the reader to take this year long journey with her, without wallowing in self pity.

Running parallel to the loss of her husband is Didion's vigilance at her daughter’s beside as Quintana lies in a coma, partially recuperates, and then outside of the pages of this memoir dies an an early death. Most people do not experience this much tragedy in such a short period of time, however as Didion grapples with her loss, it is not bad luck, nor good luck, but only life. Her life. Her living with loss.
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Reading Progress

June 10, 2019 – Started Reading
June 10, 2019 – Shelved
June 10, 2019 – Shelved as: memoir
June 27, 2019 – Finished Reading

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