four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
Joan Didion
user_rating: 
0

A-YearMagicalThinkingIn late December 2003, author Joan Didion’s world was quickly reduced to rubble. First, her daughter, Quintana, fell into a coma as a result of pneumonia and septic shock. Five days later, Didion’s husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, dropped dead of a heart attack as the couple, married nearly 40 years, sat down to dinner in their Manhattan apartment. The Year of Magical Thinking recounts the year Didion spent coming to terms with her debilitating grief for her husband—whose shoes, for example, she could not bear to give away, lest he return and have none to wear—while at the same time helping to care for her daughter as she recovered from her illness.
Knopf. 227 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 140004314X

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In literary terms, the result of Didion’s reporting diligence, coupled with her superior skills as an essayist, is an unforgettable lament that is both personal and universal. She has given the reader an eloquent starting point in which to navigate through the wilderness of grief." Stephen J. Lyons

Fort-Worth Star Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"The emotions rush forth, but Didion doesn’t hold back; rather, she lets them wash over her narrative. This sense of immediacy inflects a raw, melancholy tone throughout the book that only intensifies its power." Todd Doughty

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"We have come to admire and love Didion for her preternatural poise, unrivaled eye for absurdity, and Orwellian distaste for cant. It is thus a difficult, moving and extraordinarily poignant experience to watch her direct such scrutiny inward." Gideon Lewis-Kraus

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"At once exquisitely controlled and heartbreakingly sad, The Year of Magical Thinking tells us in completely unvarnished terms what it is to love someone and lose him, what it is to have a child fall sick and be unable to help her. It is a book that tells us how people try to make sense of the senseless and how they somehow go on." Michiko Kakutani

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion’s confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty. It may not provide ‘meaning’ to her husband’s death or her daughter’s illness, but it describes their effects on her with unsparing candor." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

The Year of Magical Thinking is a searing portrayal of personal grief, a vividly documented case study in mourning rather than the kind of modern exercise in self-therapy that, however well-intentioned, is laced with narcissism. As a writer Didion has often demonstrated a keen eye for the loose threads that, when tugged, unravel human lives and institutions. Critics were deeply moved as Didion turns her lens inward to examine her own emotional disintegration, free of clichés and tidy, little life lessons. It is the book’s raw honesty and Didion’s meticulous reporting and research that allow her memoir to transcend the merely personal and become a universal road map of loss.