February Book Club: The Year of Magical Thinking

I think Joan Didion is a wonderful writer. She, like many other greats, has a way of combining words that just lifts my soul right up out of my body.

That being said, this is a pretty depressing book.

The Year of Magical Thinking is about how Didion grieved the year after her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died unexpectedly.

One thing that she lays out over and over again is her own feelings of guilt, how she feels that she should have known something bad was going to happen based on things that just may have been benign events. When someone dies, you go back over everything that you've ever said to him, or done with him, and you wonder. I think Didion portrayed this beautifully, and though I've gone through it myself, I had never considered how to put this emotion into words.

She also talks about how she was afraid to make any drastic changes, because any change would mean that John couldn't come back. If she moved his books or got rid of his clothes or slept on his side of the bed, he wouldn't come back. I think that's the perfect way to put it: you, the bereaved, always have this little subconsious tingle that maybe--just maybe--this is all a Dynasty dream, and when you wake up, your loved one will come walking out of the shower. And if you change even one tiny thing, that fantasy disappears and you have to face a reality that doesn't include that person's physical presence.

In addition to her husband's death, Didion is also dealing with her daughter Quintana's illness, which is so severe that, at the beginning of the book, she's in a coma, and then she comes out of the coma and is seemingly better, and then she has to go right back in the hospital in even worse condition. Didion talks some about how children are supposed to outlive their parents, and how the idea of Quintana's death made her feel all upside down. (Of course she phrases it beautifully, not at all like I just did).

She says something that I really like; maybe not like, but ... wholeheartedly agree with. She talks about how bereaved persons are somehow expected to "get over it," how if, three months after a loved one's death, you're still grieving, people start to look at you strangely, and mention therapists and tell you to "stop dwelling on it."

And she says that nobody EVER really gets over it, that the realization that your loved one is gone can hit you at the most unexpected time, that you can be watching television and see a commercial that depicts a place you've been, and that in turn can make you think about the last time you were there, and maybe the last time you were there was with that person, and the thought comes to you that YOU WILL NEVER BE THERE WITH THAT PERSON AGAIN.

And then you cry and people tell you stupid things like, "He's in a better place," or "Maybe it was for the best," or "At least you had him for a little while." All of these are designed to make you feel better, but in the end, you just feel ... like you want to kill those people.

I don't know if I would recommend this book to people who have experienced a close friend or loved one's death recently; it might hit too close to home for some people. On the other hand, it might help to know that there's someone else who experienced--and is experiencing--the same feelings of helplessness, of guilt, of shock, of grief.

** side note: Take a look at the cover of the book; tell me what you see.

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