The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
227 pages, published February 2007
Genre: autobiography/memoir
Source: Borrowed from Library

In College Prep Junior English I was first introduced to Joan Didion.  One of our first assignments of the year was to read her essay entitled "The Santa Ana." For some reason (my fantastic English teacher, perhaps?) passages of Didion's writing stuck with me and I still remember bits and pieces of that essay to this day, despite never reading anything else by Didion since. However, I'd heard good things about this book, it was on my "to read" list, and last week decided to check it out from the library.

This book is a memoir that Didion wrote during the year after her husband John died suddenly of cardiac arrest in December 2003. During that time, their daughter  was ill in the hospital with what seemed to be flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock.  She was in a medical induced coma at the time John died.  Four weeks later, the daughter pulled through but soon ended up collapsing and going through hours of brain surgery to relieve a serious hematoma. The book is Didion's attempt to make sense of her thoughts, feelings and actions in the year following these events.

As with "The Santa Ana," I found Didion's writing to be eloquent, descriptive, and beautiful in this book.  Her stories of her married life and being a parent showed honesty, compassion, and love.  She made sense of a period of time in her life in which nothing was stable.  She explained her thought processes, her reasoning, and her feelings of grief  in a thought provoking and interesting way. The books ends just days after the one year anniversary of John's death--her year of magical thinking. 

My father passed away in March 2013, just over a year ago. Despite the difference between our situations (losing a parent versus losing a spouse) I completely related to this book. The experience of grief from losing a close relative is unlike any other experience.  It hits you when you least expect it. Like Didion,I too experienced irrational thoughts and feelings. I remember not being able to think straight and had a horrible time making decisions. I would stand in my closet for long periods of time, unable to decide what to wear.  I remember crying in the grocery store because I didn't know what to get or how to plan for the week's meals. It was the worst in the first few months, but I still notice these issues. On page 125 in her book, Didion was explaining her reasons why she didn't want a tracheotomy performed on her daughter. Her feeling was that if she had a trach put in, they couldn't go out to lunch. They couldn't go sit by the pool.  All these things she couldn't do regardless if they put the trach in or not, but that was an example of her irrational thinking while dealing with grief.  Didion's explanation: "This (the line of thinking) was demented. But so was I."  That really stuck with me. During that time I didn't feel like myself.

Some reviews I read of this book accused Didion of using this book to capitalize on the death or her husband. Other reviews felt she was just whining about her horrible life. I completely disagree. I believe this book was her way to deal with her grief, to process her feelings, and to move forward in the best way she knew how--by writing about it.   I can understand why those who don't relate to her situation might not like this book--true of any memoir,  I believe.

 I was disappointed the book ended so abruptly, and didn't tie up loose ends. But then again, death doesn't always give us closure or tie up loose ends. Perhaps her ending was her way of illustrating just that.

  Overall grade for "The Year of Magical Thinking": B

Happy Reading!