Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was originally published in 2006 and was the winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. My paperback copy has 227 pages. This is a highly personal account of author Didion's attempt to cope with the grief following the death of her husband while their daughter was extremely ill. The Year of Magical Thinking was highly recommended by many people after it was published. I wanted to appreciate this book and my heart aches for Didion, but reading this book sometimes made me feel alienated, like I was reading a personal journal, not a published book. Sometimes the names and details included made it feel like Didion was trying to show their place among the intellectual illuminati. I'll have to admit that I found no encouraging message in The Year of Magical Thinking that would help others I know deal with their grief and would not recommend this book to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one. A great part of the reason for this is that Didion doesn't have the spiritual strength and support found in deeply held religious beliefs. A deep and abiding faith in something greater than yourself would have served Didion well, along with some grief therapy.
So-so for me; Recommended by many

Library Journal Synopsis:
On December 30, 2003, Didion witnessed the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, from a massive coronary in their living room. The couple had just returned home after visiting their daughter, Quintana, who had been hospitalized and placed on life support several days earlier, diagnosed with a severe case of septic shock. Several weeks later, their daughter recovered, only to collapse two months later from a massive hematoma that required emergency brain surgery and an arduous recovery. (Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died on August 26, 2005.) This work is both a memoir of Didion's family life and a meditation chronicling the course of her grief. Throughout this account she describes her attempts to study grief, reading extensively on the topic because "information was control." While the events and emotions disclosed are tragic and uncomfortable, the author's description of her relationship with her husband and daughter lend beauty to the tragedy. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information

"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity." opening

"It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder of the road with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy." pg. 4

"It is now, as I begin to write this, the afternoon of October 4, 2004.
Nine months and approximately five days ago, at approximately nine o'clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center's Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in august 2004) more commonly known as 'Beth Israel North' or 'the old Doctor's Hospital,' where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." pg. 6-7

"I needed to be alone so that he could come back.
This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking." pg. 33

"I realized that I had never believed in the words I had learned as a child in order to be confirmed as an Episcopalian: I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen.
I did not believe in the resurrection of the body.
Nor did Teresa Kean, Parlance, Emmett McClure, Jack Broderick, Maurice Dodd, the four people in the car, Charles Buckles, Percy Darrow, or Walden McClure.
Nor had my Catholic husband.
I imagined this way of thinking to be clarifying, but in point of fact it was so muddled as to contradict even itself.
I did not believe in the resurrection of the body but I did believe that given the right circumstances he would come back." pgs. 149-150


raidergirl3 said...

I've read such good reviews of this before, you rebel. It's always interesting to read different opinions on books, and to be able to identify why you didn't like it makes the review very good. Very thoughtful review and your last sentence is a good comment.

Lori L said...

I found and added that last quote after just for you. Thanks for the comment! I really did want to like this book, but in the end I felt some of the popularity of it could also have been based on Didion's reputation rather than this specific book. That said, you may like it better if you decide to read it.