The Year of Magical Thinking

Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Pub Date: 2006
Pages: 227
Genre: Memoir, Death & Dying

Do you know who Joan Didion is? I didn't. But I read her memoir. I also, admittedly, didn't know it was a memoir when I started to read it. How might that have occurred, you might ask. Well, you see, I saw it pop up on bookmooch (and my list has grown so much that I've often forgotten why I've chosen some of the books) and it quickly made its way into my home and hand.

Within the first couple of pages I realized that this was a memoir of survival. While Joan Didion's daughter is in ICU in a comma, her husband (John Dunne) of forty years dies from a massive cardiac arrest. In her memoir she relives that night over and over again believing in the "if only's" to bring back the love of her life. She refers to the year that follows as her year of magical thinking. ("I needed to be alone so that he could come back. This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking.")

This memoir is raw, thorough, empowering, and REAL. Didion is a true artist capturing both the emotional repetition of conversations she shared with Dunne over mundane life and the sterile research a mourner dissects while looking through medical records or even an Emily Post article on the proper way to grieve.

Grief is this sacred experience isn't it? No one is ever lucky enough to not experience it and yet, even though it is universal and we might go through a similar process, the experience is unique to each individual. And the experience is different for each person we lose.

"People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of the extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist's office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who ears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off."
Mrs. Didion also pointed out that we often hide our grief. That at some point in time, mourning became shunned in our society because it only reenforced the idea of infallibility, of mortality. She cites Geoffrey Gorer who said in Death, Grief, and Mourning that "Death, so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden."

I don't know how this ended up on my bookmooch list. I don't think that I ever would have picked it up if it hadn't. Thankfully, I did, so I don't have to wonder about reading what-if's. This is a book that will stay with me forever. One that will be cherished. One that will be read again when I lose someone dear to me. One that I will recommend when I know someone who has lost someone dear.


  1. Wow, this sounds like a book that would stick with you. Your comment is so true that everyone ends up grieving at some point, but no one experiences it the same way. I might have to check out this book.

  2. My mom lost her dad in November, and it's the first time I've had death close to me. It was so hard to know what to do to help her. Maybe I'll recommend this book to her.

  3. I know I'm going to love this book when I read it, but I also know I'll cry my eyes out. Someday...

  4. So glad you've discovered Didion. This memoir was very different from all of her other books of course. I've really liked The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem (my favourites); and also enjoyed After Henry, Miami, Salvador, and have Play It As It Lays waiting on the shelf for me. Writing something as personal as Magical Year was a brave thing I believe. A powerful piece of writing, and not an easy book to talk about. Thanks for reviewing it.

  5. I have heard of this book, but really didn't know what it was about. It is amazing how our society shuns grieving. I sometimes think that the tradition of wearing black bands when in mourning was a good thing because it let people know that you were going through a tough time. I wonder how much more patient would we be as a society if we had an inkling of how much pain those who are around us are experiencing.

  6. I loved loved loved this book. I think that anyone who has the faculties to write about grief like Didion did is just amazing.


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