From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem
and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne's death propelled Didion into a state she calls "magical thinking." "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss," she writes. "We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes." Didion's mourning follows a traditional arc—she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief—but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. "Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age." In a sense, all of Didion's fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature.
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*Starred Review* Didion--a master essayist, great American novelist, and astute political observer--uses autobiography as a vehicle for tonic inquiries into both the self and society. In Where I Was From
(2003), she meshed family history with an examination of America's romance with the West. Here, in her most personal and generous book to date, she chronicles a year of grief with her signature blend of intellectual rigor and deep feeling. The ordeal began on Christmas 2003 when Didion and her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, learn that their daughter, Quintana Roo, is in intensive care with severe pneumonia and septic shock. Five grim days later, Dunne and Didion come home from the hospital, sit down to dinner, and Dunne suffers "a sudden massive coronary event" and dies. Married for 40 years and sharing a passion for literature, they were inordinately close. But Didion could not give herself over to grief: Quintana's health went from bad to worse as she developed a life-threatening hematoma on her brain. She survived, and Didion had the wherewithal to cope: "In times of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go the literature. Information was control." So she researches grief, schools herself in her daughter's medical conditions, and monitors the flux of flashbacks and fears that strobe through her mind. Didion describes with compelling precision exactly how grief feels, and how it impairs rational thought and triggers "magical thinking." The result is a remarkably lucid and ennobling anatomy of grief, matched by a penetrating tribute to marriage, motherhood, and love. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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