The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Good Reads Description:

‘An act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief.’

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

Helen says: 🤓🤓🤓

We pulled an “oldie” out because Holly and I have always wanted to read this memoir. We will throw in some classics from time to time since there are so many good books worth reading. New books are more fun though! Where to begin…I don’t think I am smart enough to review this book. Considering it was written by a true intellectual, in the words of Wayne and Garth, “We’re not worthy.” That being said, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. What a terrible year Joan Didion had…spoiler alert- people in her family die. My favorite parts of this story are her trips down memory lane. She would see a “cue” while driving or walking and it would trigger her into a “vortex” of memories. I really liked this approach because it was so relatable to the way I think and remember. Heavy story line – it’s not for everyone.

Holly says: 🤓🤓🤓1/2

I have a very large pile (aka boxes, shelves) of books “to be read”. This is not a diminishing pile – for every book that is read from the pile, at least 2 more appear in its place. The Year of Magical Thinking has been in this pile for approximately 8 years. I’m not sure why it has taken so long for it to make it out of the pile. Maybe because an autobiography/memoir of grief and mourning in times of great personal loss, stress, and overwhelming sadness seemed daunting – even taking the “smallness” of the book into consideration. I had expected this book to be more of a self-help or advice book of relatable experiences dealing with grief. I was wrong. I think this book was a “must write” for Ms. Didion. Somewhat of a stream of consciousness of the processing of the sudden death of her husband in the midst of the sudden onset of her only daughter’s serious illness. I believe that Ms. Didion needed to tell this story – for her own sanity as part of her mourning process – a sort of cathartic experience. Ms. Didion and Mr. Dunne were husband and wife – and more – they were each others soulmates, sounding boards, daily work partners and constant companions for 40 years. Her loss is palpable and her story is related in a very direct, and almost analytic manner.

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One thought on “The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

  1. Helen, I read that book while in a book club in Cairo several years ago…. was not that impressed… look forward to hearing your thoughts….

    Liked by 1 person

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