Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

I read this book in three days! I found it compelling and engaging, and I have a feeling that this is exactly the book I would want to read if I were going through my version of Didion's ordeal.


I had trouble keeping track of the chronology, as she jumped around in the timeline in unexpected ways, and I often forgot who certain people were (or wasn't always sure they had been introduced in the first place). I think it took me almost 1/4 of the book to figure out that her daughter was an adult when she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, which, since I was reading this book in only four sittings, says more about Didion's scattered approach to this work than it does about my lack of concentration. She was good about giving the date for the point of time she was writing about, but I couldn't always remember what was happening at that time – were they living in a beach house in California or staying in Hawaii at the time? But that being said, she was writing during a period of drastic confusion in her life, so I suppose confusion in her writing is at least appropriate.


I agree with other readers who mentioned that Didion's wealth was a distancing factor. It's hard to imagine having the privilege that her wealth and connectedness commanded. I think this book could have used some harsh editing. But that being said, her message was that in the face of such colossal grief, no earthly power could help her change her world back to the way she wanted it to be – and she certainly had access to more than her share of earthly power.


In the end, I wished she had concentrated less on how effortless her life had been before her husband died and more on the raw emotions that she went through after his death. I understand that that's private, and she needed to keep some of herself for herself, but it seemed like she was trying too hard to avoid the appearance of self-pity and instead she became too dispassionate and disconnected from her emotions. But I don't know because I haven't lived through that year, and I believe that if I found myself going through a similar ordeal, I would be reaching for this book again.