The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. This is the refrain in Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she leads readers through the year following her husband’s, John Gregory Dunne’s, unexpected death. What is stunning about this time capsule is the way Didion captures the dizziness of loss—how bereavement not only changes our present and future, but absolutely changes how we remember our past. Looking through the snapshots of her marriage, the reader begins to feel how grief has a way of seeping itself into it every memory. And how grief turns one’s sense of time and chronology mudgy, as Didion so perfectly describes.

What I love about this memoir is that it doesn’t pretend to have an answer. This is not a book tracing Didion’s methods of coping or coming to terms with the fact that her husband died suddenly at the dinner table. Instead, Didion assures her readers there is not a single solution or a single healing power that makes everything better. By attempting to understand the nature of grief, and the clutch it holds on everyone at some time or another, seems for Didion the best way of dealing.

Hopefully you can see that I really enjoyed this book. I can see, however, why some readers might be turned off by Didion’s bare-bones way of writing. Even though I enjoyed the book, it is hard to describe the book as a whole. It’s neither uplifting, nor sorrowful. It’s not hopeful, but it’s not bleak either. To describe Didion’s memoir in one word—real.

Random House, 2005

Random House, 2005

Have you read this memoir? Or anything else by Joan Didion? What was your experience? Please comment below.