2009: #114 – The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)

magical Book #114 was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The back of the book reads:

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage – and a life, in good times and bad – that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve – the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t really get anything out of it either.  It is a difficult subject matter – no one wants to think about their closest loved ones dying – but what makes Didion’s grief any different than anyone else’s?  There isn’t even any sort of insight into how one should deal with their grief and move on (or at least forward), because Didion didn’t deal with it, she wallowed in it, using it as an excuse to essentially check out of life. The only thing I found even a little insightful was at the beginning, when she talks about grief being a mental illness rather than some temporary condition. I think the book might have been more interesting if it had been written later and was about both the death of her husband and her daughter (who did eventually pass away in 2005).

As a side note, this was the selection for my book club this month, and it was universally disliked. Most of the women in the group are over 50, and I think their general thought was "Oh, just get over it already!"

Other reviews:

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking (reread) « Shelf Love
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking « Asylum

Page count: 227 | Approximate word count: 56,750

2007: Step on a Crack (James Patterson)

Used in these Challenges: A-Z 2009 Challenge; Read Your Own Books Challenge; Countdown Challenge 2010;

8 thoughts on “2009: #114 – The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)

  • October 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for linking to my review, I’ll add yours as soon as I have a few minutes.

    I think what I liked about the book was that it wasn’t really written as a retrospective, it was written in the moment. So Didion doesn’t sugar coat anything, she doesn’t look back on it with rose colored glasses. In that way, I felt like the memoir was really honest and I liked the idea that sometimes you can’t just get over it, you have to wallow sometimes.

    I’m sorry you didn’t really love it, because I just thought this memoir was great 🙂
    .-= Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)´s last blog ..Review: French Milk =-.

  • October 28, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    How did you get the book picture and description to look like that? It looks good.
    .-= charley´s last blog ..Numbers =-.

    • October 28, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      I get the pictures from the Barnes & Noble web site. The drop shadow is done automatically in Windows Life Writer, which I use to write all of my review posts.

  • October 29, 2009 at 7:44 am

    I read this book last year and I really wanted to like it because Didion is a good writer and this is a tough to experience for one person to cope with. But I just didn’t really feel anything for the author. The more I read the slower I read because it just felt like the human connection was missing or something.

    I think your review was spot on and I am so happy I read it!

    By the way, I loved your write-up on Kittling:Books!
    ~ Amy
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..A tribute to Daisy =-.

  • October 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I read this one a couple years ago and was very much “Eh” about it. It didn’t impact me at all during or after reading it. I know it’s much loved, but for me it just didn’t live up to the hype.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Random Friday: TGIF =-.

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  • June 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    I think your review is so incredibly ignorant and a slap in the face to anyone truly grieving. If you cannot relate to what Didion wrote about grief, if you cannot understand that magnitude of pain, then I highly doubt you’ve ever deeply grieved even if you have lost someone close. When you lose someone who was central to your life you should deeply grieve. It is normal to want to check out of life for a period of time because your life is shattered. Not only do I question your understanding of grief, I question your capability of empathy. When you lose your most important person tell me how it feels when someone tells you to just get over it.


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