21 October 2009

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Published: 2006 Pages: 227
Genre: Nonfiction

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
Part essay collection, part stream-of-consciousness, The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion's personal accounting of her grief the year after her husband died.

My Thoughts
I don't know that I have anything intelligent, witty, or critical to say about this. The palpable grief revealed in these pages left me thinking too long and too hard about how I would deal with my own husband's death. The deep-sinking-sickness in my torso is a small scratch to the horror of the real experience, but it was enough to make reading this book uncomfortable.

I will say, however, that I was impressed by Didion's honesty and her consistency. This is not a self-help book or a "one woman's journey of personal discovery" book; for me at least, this was an honest and heart-wrenching look, not at how one recovers from the death of a spouse, but at how one does not recover. And that feels so much more real to me than the myriad other books out there on the subject that hold on to hope as the central message.

Memorable Scene: When Joan's daughter, Quintana, needs a tracheostomy, Joan refuses. Her mind is convinced that if the operation isn't performed, Quintana will be fine. She can see the illogic but can't feel it: "This was demented, but so was I."

Memorable Quote: 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 meaningless itself.

Question: How much of a difference do you think it makes if the reader of this book is married or single?

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, let me know!

Sophisticated Dorkiness
Shelf Love
Care's Online Book Club
Stone Soup
Stephanie's Written Word
Dear Author
She Treads Softly


  1. It's interesting to think about how, not all that long ago, women died in childbirth all the time, or people died of infections and diseases, and it was so much more of an expected part of life. But I wonder if that made it any easier?

  2. I really want to read this book. I was first introduced to Joan Didion in a book on finding your voice when writing memoir. The snippets of Didion's essays were fascinating.

  3. "how one does not recover"

    Sounds heart-wrenching! I've heard good things about it. But I already think about my husband dying and what on earth would I do, so maybe not a good idea for me to read it...

  4. I've heard such positive things about this one, but it may be too raw for me. I have to think it would be more personal to a married woman or one in a long term relationship.

  5. Rhapsody - I don't know if repetition makes it easier or not. Good question.

    Cara - Didion's writing is fascinating to me; she's so honest.

    Rebecca - It's definitely strange putting yourself in her position. It certainly made me uncomfortable.

    Stacy - Raw is such a wonderful word to describe Didion's writing style.


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