Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Year of Magical Thinking

I just finished reading Joan Didion's new memoir of the year after her husband's death, The Year of Magical Thinking. I was interested, rapt I suppose, in this book as I read it. It captures grief in a way that I have not read very much before, and she is fearless in exposing her life without giving us too much information or things that are embarassingly personal. I am struck with her summations near the end--trying to keep him alive, figuring out what she could have done, reliving the moment. I thought of what we do whenever there is a smaller accident--a cut finger, a bruise from a fall--how we can live over that moment and think what we could have done to avoid that little bit of pain. How much greater it is with a life she explores here. A lot of her process is trying to change, figure out her part, figure out how she could have prevented it, etc. The entire situat9ion is exacerbated by her daughter's strange and sudden illness, and spending much of her time in hospitals, worrying about her daughter. It's very upsetting, and more so as we've come to feel we know Didion a little, to know that after this book was finished her daughter died as well. I can't imagine.
I also found the book interesting for the life she describes. She is definitely priveleged, and it would be easy to think there is no reason to feel bad for her, with talks of trips to Paris, every day meals at Morton's, houses in Malibu, Brentwood, and the Upper East Side. We are aware, as she is, of how connected she is, the people she can call, the names she can casually drop. But though this could come off as haughty or self-important, it seems more just the honest recollections of a woman trying to find answers and coming up empty-handed. There are problems, there are tough times, and those aren't wallowed in either. What we have is an author trying to work through her grief doing the one thing she knows how to do: write. Near the end of the book, she shares a story of her husband John re-reading a passage in one of her earlier books to figure out how it worked technically. It was her Birthday and he looked up and said "Don't ever tell me again you can't write. That's my Birthday present to you." After reading this affecting memoir, I would agree.

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