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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)

by Joan Didion

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,627186568 (3.83)242
Recently added byAnna_Alberti, private library, oohsecret, LT_Ammar, craignew, Grazielle, rjnagle, lucybrown
  1. 20
    A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both are autobiographical accounts of the writer's first year of widowhood.
  2. 20
    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
  3. 00
    Nocturne: On The Life And Death Of My Brother by Helen Humphreys (unlucky)
  4. 00
    When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are beautiful explorations of magical thinking during grief -- Didion's in reaction to the death of her husband in older age; Wood's in reaction to the death of her father in childhood.
  5. 00
    The Long Goodbye: A memoir by Meghan O'Rourke (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Although these books certainly have differences, both are beautifully written, and both are about a year of grieving, each in their own way.
  6. 00
    Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield (sanddancer)

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» See also 242 mentions

English (180)  Norwegian (2)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (184)
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
An excellent account of loss and bereavement. ( )
  Mohamed80 | Jul 11, 2015 |
Harrowing, fascinating, name-dropping, odd view into a year of hell.

Great premise, but felt as if the aspects with the daughter were strangely held at arm's length. Understandable in the moment and surely true, but odd given the intimacy of the story.

I have been haunted, ever since, by the stack of books by Didion's bed that her husband had been reading, that stayed in place. For some reason that detail has lasted in my mind with great poignancy and foreboding. ( )
1 vote LauraCLM | May 7, 2015 |
I wanted to like this more than I did. I was expecting a deeper meditation on grief and its impact, or at least some kind of allusion to the magical thinking of the title. Instead it just read as a recounting of her (no doubt, very bad) year. Her ground completely shifted out from under her in a matter of months, but this reads like a standard, run-of-the-mill memoir. I suspect that she wrote this too soon, that she didn't give herself enough time to process. Because what we have here is a blow-by-blow rendering of the grief process, and the aligned memories, but not any context for it. I wish she had waited another year and given herself time to sort through not only her loss, but her reaction to that loss. She needed more distance from her subject, as much as such a thing is possible.

( )
  CherieDooryard | Jan 20, 2015 |
This memoir of the author's mourning for her husband was full of things where I felt that "yes, that's how I feel too" recognition. If nothing else it makes me a little less alone in this journey. ( )
  tjsjohanna | Oct 12, 2014 |
"Time is the school in which we learn."

This is the story of a year of Didion's life - the year started by the death of her husband. A very precise account of the experience of grief, with sections on vortices of grief (the memories, items and events that pull us back into grief when we think we have overcome it), the physiological effects (cognitive failures, cold) and assorted other ponderings. I found the couple of pages on why we consider grief to be a condition to be overcome and a healing process at the same time spot-on.

It is an extremely personal account, and not just of her own life during that year - there are so many names of friends included (one presumes real as they all seem to be personages of modern American literature) and her daughter's assorted medical emergencies in the year are recounted in some detail. Of course there are some details which are omitted, and their omission is obvious (her daughter's occupation, information about her mother and father, and there is a reference to her daughter's adoption which is then never explained).

Didion's selection of events to be included is selective, and is clearly selected to fit the theme of her book, that is, her recognition of her altered mental state due to grief, her wishes to be able to change history. It's part memoir, part examination of a particular phenomenon through personal events - not unlike Happier At Home, or Sleeping Naked is Green (though those were happier topics).

The title took a long time to make sense to me, until Didion admits (late in the book) that she had been trying to keep life the same, to bring John back, to freeze time just before he died. The penultimate chapter on his last few days - her horror at obliterating his last dictionary search, working her way through the reading pile next to his chair and finding a newspaper with a date in the New Year (after he died); Didion writes the moments very well.

It's definitely worth reading and is beautifully written, but I did not find it as moving as I expected, somehow - less moving than The End of Your Life Book Club and similar works.

I think I will read Blue Nights, another work of non-fiction which follows this one chronologically, but I won't hurry to buy it. ( )
  readingwithtea | Oct 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
Essayistic and concise, seeking external points of comparison, trying to set her case in some wider context.
added by KayCliff | editNew York Review of Books, Julian Barnes (Apr 7, 2011)
added by melmore | editLondon Review of Books, Michael Wood (pay site) (Jan 5, 2006)
The book is, as promised, extraordinary. The Year of Magical Thinking is raw, brutal, compact, precise, immediate, literate, and, given the subject matter, astonishingly readable.
added by melmore | editSlate.com, Peter D. Kramer (Oct 17, 2005)
Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative: a forced expedition into those "cliffs of fall" identified by Hopkins.
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. It may not provide "meaning" to her husband's death or her daughter's illness, but it describes their effects on her with unsparing candor. It was not written as a self-help handbook for the bereaved but as a journey into a place that none of us can fully imagine until we have been there.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joan Didionprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jonkheer, ChristienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is for John and for Quintana
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Life changes fast.
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Didion's journalistic skills are displayed as never before in this story of a year in her life that began with her daughter in a medically induced coma and her husband unexpectedly dead due to a heart attack.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140004314X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:12 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

An autobiographical portrait of the author's efforts to deal with the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, shortly after their daughter Quintana was placed into an induced coma to help her survive complications after pneumonia.

» see all 8 descriptions

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