The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion

I've read this book sometime last year. I have to admit it took a long time for me to read for personal reasons. For one thing it was a book given by a friend a couple or so weeks after my mom passed on. I tried reading it a couple of months after the fact and gave up. Then there's the part where I can't seem to read anymore because my eyes almost always fill with tears and I just had to close the book and think happy thoughts. Ok, that didn't sound right.

But the initial difficulty passed as did time. Maybe sadness and grief work that way. Maybe I was still in denial, in my own state of magical thinking. When I picked the book up again last year, more than a year after I received it in the mail, I was ready. Still hurting but ready nonetheless.

Didion's book is an account of the twelve-month period after her husband, John Dunne, died of a massive heart attack. At the time of his death their daughter, Quintana Roo, was sick and admitted to another hospital for septic shock. And while the book covers the process of grieving, it basically embraces the power of marriage and family, and eventually the notions of the one left behind, as in this case the widow Joan.
This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that ut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.

There is clarity in her perceptions that those who have lost someone can relate with. Maybe that's why I cried while reading. Or at times I just had to stop.
Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.

And while there is clarity, there is also a sense of repetition which is understandable. This is magical thinking after all.
Survivors look back and see omens, messages they missed.

They remember the tree that died, the gull that splattered onto the hood of the car.

They live by symbols. They read meaning into the barrage of spam on the unused computer, the delete key that stops working, the imagined abandonment in the decision to replace it. The voice in my answering machine is still John's. The fact that it was his in the first place was arbitrary, having to do with who was around on the day the answering machine last needed programming, but if I need to retape it now I would do so with a sense of betrayal.

Didion gives a voice or an echo of what's it like to lose someone. A voice for those of us who can't find it yet, for those who stammer and mumble incoherently, for those who want to get out of that state of denial because there is plenty here, and plenty more room for thoughts of moving on and remembering well.

But for others whose grief are unfathomable, this is just an echo because theirs that can never be defined. They can never be assuaged by thoughts that others have felt that same hollow feeling inside. And I can understand that.

It took me more than a year to finally read the book and a handful of months to finally post about it. I'm just glad I did both: read and finally post about it.

This is technically speaking the second (or third) book I read (I'm not really sure) for the Book Awards Reading Challenge but obviously I only posted about it now. But this would count as my eleventh book in all. The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award in 2005 for nonfiction.