Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Report: The Year of Magical Thinking


"You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."


Writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were married for almost forty years. Dunne died of a sudden cardiac arrest shortly after Christmas 2003 in their apartment as they prepared for dinner. As a sidebar story, Didion's and Dunne's daughter Quintana had been hospitalized a couple of weeks before his death for pneumonia, subsequently developed septic shock, and was unconscious when he died. It was months before Quintana could be told the news of her father's death. Even after, Quintana suffered numerous health setbacks throughout Didion's year of `magical thinking.'

The Year of Magical Thinking is an account of the twelve months following John Dunne's death and Didion's struggle to make sense of the grieving process.

Anyone who has lost a close loved one, especially from a sudden death, will be able to relate to Joan Didion's story. The sudden memories that rush into view; the belief that if you could just pray hard enough, or will it strongly enough, things would be different; the need to have just one more conversation or get the answer to just one more question; the desire to turn back time...all are universally-felt reactions, but also extremely singular.

"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. 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. . . . Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."


Didion's cool, somewhat detached journalistic style isn't for everyone. There. You've been warned.

P.S. Quintana, Joan Didion's daughter and only child died in 2005 before the book's publication.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this. Yeah, I guess I related to some of it.
Wendy