The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

By Joan Didion
New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf 2005
Hardback, 227 pages.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a self-analytical look at a year of mourning by the author. In late December 2003, Joan Didion's only daughter, Quintana, fell ill with what was believed to be the flu. The flu turned into pneumonia and eventually her daughter went into septic shock. A week after her daughter is admitted to the hospital, Didion was in the kitchen preparing dinner, when her husband of forty years, John Dunne, quietly died of a heart attack while sitting in the next room.

It would be easy to cast this book aside, believing it to be a morbid look at loss, but Didion's writing gives expression to a detailed look at how the human mind works during the process of grieving a loved one. Her writing style is meditative, repeating events only to look at them more deeply while analyzing her thoughts and reactions. Throughout the book, she writes about avoiding vortexes-trigger points that will remind her of John and the things they did together. She writes about avoiding the restaurants they used to go to, the streets they would drive down, the theaters they would visit, until she realizes that she is no longer living, but running from pillar to post to avoid something that she is in need of facing. While this sounds melancholic, Didion is self-critical about these events, adding light-heartedness to the book. In the end, she realizes there is little she can do to avoid the vortexes because she and John spent very little time apart. They both worked at home critiquing each other's work, discussing events important to one or the other, and enjoying each other's company.

Didion's book is a very human look at grief and loss. Despite having spent more than half her life with her husband, Didion realizes she doesn't want it to end and recollects the previous years with him in order to hold onto his presence. But as we all know, these memories eventually begin to fade and we are left with the here and now. The message held throughout this book is that those who have departed live within us because of the things they have taught us and the gifts, material and otherwise, they have given us. This in turn is passed on to others. While this does not stop the mourning process, the realization of it helps lessen it for some. This book is recommended for those who mourn.


January/February 2007