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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
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's review
Nov 05, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography-memoir

After I saw a short article about this book, I decided I would probably have to read it.
The author lost her husband suddenly while her only daughter was in a coma in the hospital. I loved the book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has lost a spouse, parent, or someone close. And, to anyone in a long term marriage or relationship that still has both partners.
As I read it, I thought a lot about my mom and how these would have been her thoughts – if she had not been the first to go. I thought about my dad and, how he is dealing with her absence. I thought about Doug and our marriage and how it would be if one of us lost the other one. Joan Didion’s observations are right on and she communicates them to the reader so we can understand exactly what she means.
-Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.
-our (I could not yet think my) house
-grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends
-Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night.
-I did not always think he was not right nor did he always think I was right but we were each the person the other trusted. There was no separation between our investments or interests in any given situation.
-Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the daily ness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of “waves.”
-Grief was passive. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention.
-The voice on the answering machine is still John’s. The fact that it was his in the first place was arbitrary, having to do with who was around n the day the answering machine last needed programming, but if I needed to retape it now I would do so with a sense of betrayal. One day when I was talking on the telephone in his office I mindlessly turned the pages of the dictionary that he had always left open on the table by the desk. When I realized what I had done I was stricken: what word had he last looked up, what had he been thinking?
-As he saw it, he now had a death sentence, temporarily suspended – he knew how he was going to die. As I saw it, the timing had been providential, the intervention successful the problem solved.
-“Don’t ever tell me again you can’t write. That’s my birthday present to you.”
-who would see the blood streaming down my leg, who would get the taxi, who would be with me in the emergency room. Who would be with me once I came home?
-their son had been ‘hit hard by the sixties’
-Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.
-something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.
-C.S. Lewis “I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense.”…So many roads once; now so many cul de sacs.
-We are repeatedly left, in other words, with no further focus than ourselves, a source from which self-pity naturally flows.
-Marriage is memory. Marriage is time. “She didn’t know the songs”. Marriage is not only time: it is paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.
Postscript: Joan Didion’s daughter Quantana died of pancreatitis in August 2005.

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