Book ReviewThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
From The New Yorker
Didion’s husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne’s death, Quintana’s illness, and Didion’s efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. “She’s a pretty cool customer,” one hospital worker says of her, and, certainly, coolness was always part of the addictive appeal of Didion’s writing. The other part was the dark side of cool, the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad. In 2004, Didion had her own disasters to deal with, and she did not, she feels, deal with them coolly, or even sanely. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it’s also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage.
I decided NOT to read Water for Elephants directly after finishing the Wodehouse book because TYOMT – The Year of Magical Thinking is a library book and also, it looked short of pages, thus possible a ‘quick’ read.
I had been warned that this book would be emotionally wrenching. It was not. I enjoyed this book very much and even laughed a few times in its poignancy. One ‘cool customer’, indeed.
I expected that I would be so touched by this that I would cry while reading. I did not. I didn’t come close. Not to say that I wasn’t touched – I was profoundly affected in a heart-warming loving way.
Mourning and grief do not necessitate tears. Not crying does not mean I wasn’t saddened by her experiences. It does make me wonder what does make me cry when I read literature? And I thought that was one of the symptoms of my hypothyroidism… Hmmm.
Perhaps knowing ahead of time what this book is about prepared my steely heart? This book is about one woman’s dealing with the year after her husband’s sudden death. It’s very much a book that explores definitions of grief from a highly technical and psychological viewpoint and also, how Ms. Didion relates to it privately and personally. A comparison between her rational response and many irrational ones. Almost clinical and yet with a gentle comic touch. She references books and poems, and thus poets that I do not know. I was impressed that she could recite poems as they bubbled up from memory.
I hope that she meant to be little comical. Perhaps I have a warped sense of humor. When she mentions that her immediate thought upon hearing that Julia Child had died, was that now her deceased husband and Julia can sit down and have dinner together, I chuckled. I thought it was a tender and sweet consideration!
I admit that I was most fearful in knowing what happens with her daughter.
This is yet another book that inspires me to read more. It is expected that nonfiction about or by a writer would offer up many choices for further reading! I have never read any books by Joan Didion nor of her husband’s John Gregory Dunne. I do not recall what triggered me to want to read this book. No. Idea.
Did anyone notice that the cover design shows two colors for the typeface? And what is spelled with the the blue-gray letters of J, O, H, and N? Simple, effective, quiet honor.
I ask my readers to please recommend books written by these authors to add to my tbr list. Thank you.