Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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

On December 30, 2003, as she sat down to dinner, just after visiting her comatose daughter Quintana in the hospital, Joan Didion saw her husband John Gregory Dunne fall over as he suffered a massive heart attack. The questions began. Was it really unforeseen? Should she have done something differently in the moments or months before his death to save him? Could she reverse time to save him? Must she keep his suits and shoes? He might still need them.

The Year of Magical Thinking is the story of her year 2004, when she continued to care for her daughter, hoping for just one more day with her, wanting one more day with John. It was a time of mourning and grief, when she decided that none of the books on grief helped. She was stoic, but there were moments of disbelief. She went on with her life, but not with her writing. She and John had worked at home together for nearly forty years. He had read and commented on every piece she wrote before anyone else. How could she write again without him?

Time is fluid in The Year of Magical Thinking. With only a thought the time is 1945 or 1964 or 1987 or the day before John's death. Still the year does pass, with every day an anniversary of some other day. Joan travels to California to again care for Quintana, to Boston for the Democratic National Convention, and back in her apartment in New York for the anniversary of John's death. She places a lei sent by a friend from Hawaii in the chapel that holds John's ashes. The year then runs out of days so there are no more anniversaries.

Readers of The Year of Magical Thinking will have questions. Why does Didion's year matter so much to us? Why do we identify with her when the details of her life differ from ours? How will we grieve when the time comes, as it must?

Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking. New York: Knopf, 2005. ISBN 140004314X

4 compact discs. St. Paul: HighBridge, 2005. 159887005x

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