Out of excruciatingly painful personal experience, Joan Didion has written a lacerating yet peculiarly stirring book... In December 2003 two terrible things happened: her only child, Quintana, married months earlier, was hospitalized in a coma, and five days later her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died... For more than a year, Didion's life was completely taken over by these events; The Year of Magical Thinking is the story of that year ...an intensely personal story that involves a relatively small cast of characters... Some books (most of them very bad) do get written because their authors put themselves on the couch, and some writers are not above cashing in on anything, including the illnesses or deaths of people ostensibly close to them. Not for a moment do I believe either to be the case with Didion ... The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion's confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty.
Joan Didion has long grappled with what is out of our control and what is within our control, life's uneasy balance, or imbalance, between circumstance and free will. The Year of Magical Thinking forces her to confront this issue in an especially personal way: It deals with the death of Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, which occurs in the midst of their daughter's hospitalization for a winter flu that had turned life-threatening ...her writing, with its tautness and precision, is itself a way of imposing order on the illogical, preserving sanity in the face of turmoil. Remaining a cool customer has been Didion's life's work. She doesn't do the feeling for you, but her unfussy prose elicits a rush of emotion in the reader... The book is an exacting self-examination, but it is also a heartbreaking, though far from sentimentalized, love letter, engrossing in its candor ... In the matter-of-fact, almost comma-less prose that is her hallmark, Didion illuminates the bond between husband and wife in terms both homely and indelible.
In her new book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the life that persists amid the disorder is Didion's, and the salient tatter of poetry that inspires her is from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. The lines that now reverberate in her inner ear are Eliot's: 'these fragments I have shored against my ruins.' ... The Year of Magical Thinking is an aching — and achingly beautiful — chronicle of this year of fragments shored against Didion's ruins ... Many such wishful episodes revolve around how Didion uses language to try to preserve order and continuity ...the words she hears and repeats are no longer just words but magical words, charm words ...inhabits a surgically precise idiom like an A student at medical school, snaps commands and reminders at doctors and orderlies, looks to these potent words and slabs of information as bulwarks against the dilating pain of helplessness and loss ... The difference between her own fragments shored against these unhappy ruins and those fragments — fanciful wishes and narrow half-truths and gaudy amulets — marshaled by her previous subjects is this: We are left with the impression that her near-pathological honesty will in time allow her to cope — without magic — with things falling apart.
Grief has its reasons, or rather its mode of reasoning. The premises are wild, but the logic is irresistible. This is what Joan Didion means when she writes, in her title and on the page, of ‘magical thinking’ ... Clarity. This is the voice of Didion the mistress of form, the stylish, tireless enemy of muddle ...delicate, harrowing memoir...Didion was being too insistent on her slippage from right reason, too hard on the alternative rationality of her thought. There is nothing disordered about the single-minded logic of grief ... the slippage was Didion’s subject. She couldn’t celebrate it, but she knew she had to be true to it.
When describing Joan Didion's writing style, words such as 'spare,' 'detached' and 'analytical' come to mind. Thus it's a surprise that her powerful new memoir moves us with the raw emotion of its subject — mourning — as Didion probes her most personal feelings about a devastating year ... As part of the grieving process, Didion takes her late father's advice — 'Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature' — and researches grief from medical and literary perspectives, sharing passages from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems, Euripides' Alcestis and C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed.
...chronicled in Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, a slim book that's both a powerful statement on grief and dying and an indelible glimpse into the 40-year marriage of two of the most talented writers on the planet ... Part of this book is Didion watching herself becoming irrational: unhinged, as the saying goes, by grief ... Because of Didion's superb ability to conceptualize and contextualize, this book is both a meditation on death and an observation of how our contemporary world deals with it — or not ... Didion's writing always has displayed an almost musical sense of repetition. A seemingly innocuous passage is repeated and amplified until it swells with an undercurrent of portent ... The Year of Magical Thinking may be the apotheosis of that kind of reading experience. This is a sad and anguished book, told in some of the plainest, yet most eloquent prose you'll ever encounter.
The Year of Magical Thinking is raw, brutal, compact, precise, immediate, literate, and, given the subject matter, astonishingly readable. But the implicit claim to cultural significance is harder to assess ...her daughter, Quintana Michael, lay comatose in a hospital bed, Didion watched her husband, John Gregory Dunne, die of a heart attack ... Few of us can say how we would fare with a child in intensive care and a spouse fresh in the grave. On the other hand, the function of Didion's book is precisely to tell us what we might expect ...the emptiness of depression, the superstition of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the agoraphobia of anxiety states, and the terror of post-traumatic stress disorder. Didion reports these experiences, along with some of grief's differentiating traits ...Didion's techniques diverge subtly from Styron's. When Didion quotes poets, she intends to clarify her own grief ... Paradoxically, an account of grief that aimed for universality would overflow with memories of the person lost ... Perhaps we are witnessing a special sort of grief, grief in a woman whose longstanding defenses have been overwhelmed.
A writer all her life (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Democracy, A Book of Common Prayer among others), few are more expert than Didion at cleanly parsing thoughts and feelings ... What she has produced, with remarkable clarity, is a record of her thoughts and feelings during her first year of bereavement ... If Didion's narrative sounds heartrending, it is — utterly so. But at the same time, it is a work of much majesty ... But The Year of Magical Thinking is also something more...it is particularly touching to read about a decades-long partnership that thrived ... We her readers are left simply to admire both her bravery and her skill, and to offer whatever intelligent compassion we can from afar.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is her memoir of what she went through in dealing with the unthinkable. On December 30, 2003, Didion and her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, returned home from the hospital where their only daughter, Quintana Roo, lay in a coma, suffering from severe pneumonia and septic shock ... What followed for her was a year of magical thinking, an attempt to change the narrative by an act of will ... Memory turned into a 'vortex' that could suddenly sweep her away. And here we find Didion's powerful descriptive writing and superb eye for detail ...she brings to her loss her journalistic honesty and the ability to search for and find the deeper truth, no matter how unsatisfying that truth may be ... In addition to being a wonderful memoir, this book is an invaluable meditation for that time when the far-off future suddenly becomes now and the rainy day turns into a deluge.
As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003 ... In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief... As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays ...this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work ... This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion — even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances — without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain ... A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.