Review of “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

Didion tells a moving account of the struggle to deal with the grief after the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the life-threatening illness suffered by her daughter, Quintana.

The tale takes the reader on Didion’s heart-breaking journey through the first year after John’s death and her attempt to understand how and why it happened as she sorts through the issue of self-pity.

She must also come to terms with her “Magical Thinking,” her belief that she must be in a certain place in case he comes back, or that she must keep his shoes because he will need them when he returns.

The book is not only a description of her passionate efforts to deal with the loss, but it is also a celebration of a long successful marriage filled with fascinating travels and envious adventures. They were never even apart long enough for him to have written a letter. The anguish felt by Didion after the death of her husband, with whom she discussed everything, is amplified by the fact that she spent forty years living and working with him, and now he is suddenly gone.

Didion needed to write the book in order to make sense of what happened. Writing is what she does, how she defines herself and it was the only way for her to find any sort of meaning in the recent events in her life. What she finds instead is how little she understands about death and dying and the process of grieving. She discovers that there is no meaning to find, just a void, the lack of meaning, “the relentless succession of movements during which we will confront the experience of meaningless itself.”

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, it is easy to relate to Didion’s inability to completely accept her loss and her resultant attempt to cling to a shred of hope no matter how unreasonable it may seem to others. I am grateful to Didion for allowing me to share her experience through her thought-provoking descriptions and heart-wrenching realizations.

The writing is electrifying and full of detail and the process that leads her to meaninglessness is intense and powerful. She uses repetition to constantly remind us how quickly life can change and she even manages to find humor along the way.

Didion takes us along on her terrifying yet necessary voyage through the stages of grief and the process of mourning, leading to the eventual realization that certain changes will occur and life must somehow continue. She helps us to realize that we are not alone in our pain. Most of us are grieving in some way for someone we have lost. We all struggle to move on and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” shows us it can be done, that we can stop dwelling on the past and start focusing on the future.

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