Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Enhanced Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Adult, non-fiction, memoir
You might like this book if you like excellent writing, portraits of intimate emotions and relationships, or are interested in learning more about grief.

I bought this at a sale some years ago. I decided to read it now because in the last few months, I've thought more about death and what happens to the living when people die than I have in many years. This book is a memoir of the year after the author's husband dies and I found it beautiful. It was honest, had a sense of immediacy and, I thought, felt very real. It has beautiful writing, well-chosen quotes from poetry and literature, reflections on a good marriage and offers a somehow restrained yet at times frighteningly raw glimpse into what those who are grieving are actually experiencing.

All of the deaths that I've been thinking about have been people near my age who have died suddenly and tragically (one was taken by disease, the other two by murder in separate circumstances), and have left behind children near the ages of my children, so even though I'm not grieving in the way their families are, I'm certainly thinking through a lot of things and working to use my faith and knowledge to make sense of these passages. This book helped some. Even though it is not written from the perspective of faith, it is written from the perspective of someone who loved the one she lost very, very much. Theirs was a rich and strong marriage and I loved the way she shared memories of family life that were so happy, I mean framed with a golden glow kind of happy, but to her were the jagged edges of her grief revealed. It was an amazing dichotomy. I would be completely caught up in the joy of the moment she was describing, then we would come back to the present to find her completely debilitated by the force of the memory.

The writing is superb, and as it is the first piece I've read by this author, I will certainly be looking for more. I have not done a search of her work, but it sounds like she and her husband worked extensively as writers in the film industry, so I'm curious if she is the writer of anything I'm familiar with.

This book was tender, but never sentimental. It was beautiful, but did not leave out the ugliness of grief. It was like a photograph that perfectly blended light and shadow to give the act of mourning a form and substance that even those of us on the outside of real pain can understand. In the end, though, it is a love story-a tribute to her husband John that never falters. You can even tell from the cover that he is the book's true subject. Look closely.


  1. That book sounds so good. Great review!

  2. I'm going to go look that book up. I, too, have lost dear friends, who were younger then me, in the last little while. It's been very difficult. Thanks for the recommendation.


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