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The Year of Magical Thinking [Paperback]

Joan Didion
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 13 2007 Vintage International
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.

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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*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 Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive Oct. 26 2005
By A Customer
Written in clear and precise words with feeling and emotional understanding, this comprehensive guide and novel will help you to follow through with the grief you feel within yourself. I gained so much knowledge from this well written book. I also read Song Of Cy: Understanding Grief (Katlyn Stewart) and agree it is a 5 star book
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotional Oct. 6 2005
By A Customer
Through the terrible losses she had to deal with as well as the coma her daughter was in, this author takes you through a journey of a lifetime. You will feel the emotions she felt, and they will ring true within your own world. A must read, especially for those that are reeling from a loss.
Also recommending: Song Of Cy by Katlyn Stewart- I bought the E-Book
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Magical Dec 13 2013
By Rob Slaven TOP 50 REVIEWER
In an attempt to bring the greatest possible diversity to my feedback, I present you with two reviews in one. My fiancee and I often read and critique the same books so I give you a review in matching His and Hers format below:

Laura's Review (Hers):

I enjoyed this book, as much as a book about grief can be enjoyed. Ms. Didion skillfully articulated her feelings and thoughts after the sudden death of her husband and during her daughter's illness. Having recently lost a brother I was able to connect deeply with many of her thoughts, particularly the magical thinking she describes. It's not often that I read a book and think "oh my gosh, that's EXACTLY how I've felt" but this book did that for me. Ms. Didion helped me be able to articulate my own thoughts at times when I couldn't begin to articulate them myself.

I applaud Ms. Didion's willingness and ability to put herself out in public view in such a raw, vulnerable way. Death of a loved one is, I believe, a deeply personal experience and I can't imagine sharing my innermost vulnerabilities and thought processes with the public. Perhaps doing so was cathartic for Ms. Didion; I don't know. I do know, however, that it takes a great deal of courage to do so.

Some reviewers have criticized the book for its representation of the privileged life Ms. Didion lives. While I agree that there are numerous references to events and experiences that many people will never have, I don't fault her for that. She wrote this book from her own perspective, from her own viewpoint, and as such she presented her life honestly. I respect a person who is not apologetic for having had such opportunities.

I recommend this book. While it is not a happy read, it is evocative and beautifully written.
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By Melanie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Such a sad story, but it is so well written, almost poetically. It offered a very deep insight on life and aging. A treasure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended Readings June 25 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I teach a course on death and dying for the University of Regina, Faculty of Social Work. One of my students referred this book for me to review. It is an excellent resource. I will be putting it on the lust of recommended readings for the course.
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