Joan Didion’s startlingly personal memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, follows her through the first year after the sudden loss of her husband John to a heart attack, as well as the near loss of her daughter, Quintana to complications from pneumonia. The book deals with family and grief and love and marriage, and is filled with the intense emotion of a person struck dumb by the loss of the person they held most dear.
I picked this book up after hearing it discussed on my new favorite podcast, Literary Disco. I felt like they were constantly discussing Joan Didion and her writing and how great it was, and I was missing out. Since I already had this on my shelf, I decided to start with The Year of Magical Thinking. Maybe I should’ve chosen a light work, or a book of essays, but I definitely enjoyed it, despite how sad it was. Didion wrote about love and grief in a way I had never seen before, and I felt for her the whole way through. I could only imagine how immediately different her life became.
Having both been writers, and pretty well-off, from the sound of it, Joan and John both worked at home all through the course of their marriage, and were used to being around each other all day long. The silence after his death almost echoes through the book. It is deafening and heartbreaking. This fact also makes it more amazing to me that Joan Didion was at the same time handling that her daughter came extremely close to death as well, multiple times, directly after John’s death.
One of the standout moments for me was, as she was asking herself whether they were truly dependent on one another, Didion recalls a time in the 1960’s when she had to stay over night in a different part of California. She and John always ate dinner together, and without a second thought, John flew to meet her for dinner that same night. I was near tears, really.
A bit hard to get through at times, for obvious reasons, but I definitely think this is worth a read. It made me look at loss in a new light, and more than anything else makes me want to read the rest of Joan Didion’s work.
Have you read this or other books by Joan Didion?