Here I am again tackling one of my least favorite types of blog posts. I’ve already checked Facebook (twice), logged onto Twitter and even browsed Eater NY. There’s nothing left to do but actually write this thing.
Scratch that. After writing that first paragraph above, I Googled The Year of Magical Thinking and spent the next half an hour reading more about the Didion-Dunnes.
But now on to the review. The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles the grief writer Joan Didion suffers after her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, dies suddenly of a heart attack while their only child, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, is unconscious in a hospital as a result of a serious case of pneumonia. It takes weeks for Quintana to recover and it’s not until then that she hears of her father’s death and a funeral is held to place Dunne’s ashes. Quintana and her husband, just recently married, then take off to California. Shortly after landing there, Quintana collapses with a bleed in her brain only to remain in the ICU in California for more than a month.
While obsessing over her daughter’s care, Didion is able to temporarily put off her grief over her husband’s death. But when Quintana gets better, Didion is once again faced with the enormity of her loss. Her marriage to Dunne seems like one of those perfect ones – they worked side by side in adjoining offices at home, finished each other’s sentences and generally spent all of their time together. The “magical thinking” Didion refers to involves her warped sense that somehow Dunne would come back. She couldn’t get rid of his shoes, for instance, in case he returned and needed them.
The book examines Didion’s grief through the lenses of her own experience, quotes from literature and poetry, and academic studies. My favorite parts were Didion’s experiences. They were sad and difficult to read at times, but they seemed the most honest and poignant to me. In most cases, the excerpts from other writers enhanced the memoir as well, adding an eloquence to the pain. The medical and academic references seemed too clinical to me, though I suppose that was the point. It showed grief from every angle.
The Year of Magical Thinking was short but packed a lot of emotional punch. At the same time, it was never overwrought. Didion is, as one doctor describes her, one “cool customer.” She holds it together well and writes somewhat matter-of-factly, but at the same time reveals her deep sense of loss. It rang true for me.
I was so upset to read during my Googling earlier that Quintana passed away shortly after the book was written. It makes the book that much sadder. However, at the same time, it was a loving tribute to her husband.