The Year of Magical Thinking

ISBN: 140004314X
ISBN 13: 9781400043149
By: Joan Didion

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About this book

From one of America's iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage -- and a life, in good times and bad -- that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Reader's Thoughts

Sara

"you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. the question of self-pity."i picked up this book and read it knowing nothing more than those two short lines. those two lines which become the refrain of the memoir. i think i must have been drawn to it intuitively, i needed to read this book when i did. didion's memoir records her thoughts, feelings and actions during the year following her husband's death and her daughter's near-death hospitalizations (i learned later that after the book was published her daughter did die, a fact which is incorporated into the broadway play adaptation). there is nothing sentimental about this memoir, though it easily could be. instead, the memoir feels like a combination of reading didion's diary and also following her every action. she tells us of every thing she does to try to understand her husband's death and daughter's illness, relying primarily on science for her answers, which she does not find. this is not a self-help book. it did not teach me how to properly grieve. instead, it showed me how one woman, in her own particular circumstances, handled her grieving, which sometimes included not really handling it at all. i needed to read this book when i did and i would recommend it to anyone who has ever experienced a profound loss from which you may not have fully healed. this won't teach you how to heal but it may make you feel less alone and less crazy when life as you know it ends and you begin that insane plunge into the question of self-pity.

Uncle

The clear light of day tells me that I did not allow John to die, that I did not have that power, but do I believe that? Does he? - Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking. I am stopped at a red light. I glance to my left, to a house on the corner. Two young women are walking up to the front door. The women are dressed rather formally in long black coats. The woman in front is carrying a large floral arrangement of white flowers, lilies mostly. I think to myself that they are probably just returning from a funeral, or are visiting someone recently bereaved. The light changes. I drive away. Some years it seems as if Death is a frequent, if unwelcome, visitor. 2013 was such a year for me. I experienced the deaths of an aunt and a cousin. A close friend lost his sister. In October I attend a conference. A fellow attendee, who at the time seemed to be in perfect health, is dead only three weeks later. December was particularly bad, with the deaths of three elderly acquaintances, including a mother and daughter who die only five days apart. A friend’s email today informs me of the death of her favorite aunt. When is it going to stop I ask? With mortality very much on my mind, it is not surprising that I was so moved by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, an unflinching memoir of her own loss following the unexpected death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne. The couple were sitting down to supper at their dinner table, when Dunne suddenly collapsed. With nightmarish precision, Didion recounts every detail of that terrible night, culminating with her spouse being declared dead. It is all so terrifying in its ordinariness. As the first year of her widowhood unfolds, Didion finds herself engaging in the “magical thinking” of the book’s title. A famous writer and journalist, Didion finds herself methodically researching why her husband died. For some reason discovering the exact moment of his expiration seems critically important to her. Yet other mundane actions, such as giving away his shoes, or removing the bookmark from the last book he was reading, seem like betrayals against the hope for his miraculous return. The Year of Magical Thinking also examines the married life and writing careers of Didion and Dunne. It was an unusual marriage, comfortable, loving, yet challenging and imperfect. Throughout the book, the couple’s only daughter, Quintana, suffers from a baffling and imprecise brain ailment. Didion must cope with this trauma alone. The Year of Magical Thinking is a profound, almost chillingly honest, examination of grief. Didion resists conventional platitudes and false comforts. When she emerges eventually from her first year of widowhood, it is as a fragile, emotionally-battered survivor. It is not a book about someone “getting over” loss, but rather about confronting it and acknowledging its power.

Alan

An undeniable, biographically verified tragedy will carry a book a long way. But I felt her approach to sorrow to be one of control, to be an instance of a particularly American kind problem-solving, rather than of serious solitary reflection and attempted acceptance. I also found the cloistered, rarefied, routinized luxury of her life and world to be rather spoiled, despite its grave horrors. Though I enjoyed the stark realism, I might have enjoyed a less iron face than the one with which she, by necessity, turned to the events of her life. I felt she might have sat with the tragedy longer before writing it and that this would have allowed it more life, and would have given her the distance necessary to no longer need to so control the death. The book was very smart, often insightful, always heartbreaking, and undeniably real--this was its power.

Kim

You might think of me as a cynic. If you’re being kind, that is. I’m the one that says ’Seriously?’ when being told of some tragic event--like someone would actually make up the horrific thing. I’m the one that views the whole process of death--the telling, the grieving, the service of any kind, the ’after’-- as playing out like I’m in a soap opera bubble. Which camera should I look into when I break down again? Strike one against me.Strike Two: I've never been much of a fan of Joan Didion... I think it began in college…being forced to read Why I Write and On Keeping a Notebook. I didn’t enjoy being told, essay-like, how I should go about writing. It’s not my thing. That didn’t help that urge to rebel that goes along with college either. My Didion backlash was further proven when Up Close and Personal came out. Wait, you want to add Jessica Savitch to the list? Awww. Hell no. It just wasn’t happening. Strike Three (??): Maurice bought this for me a few Christmases ago. I winced, like I usually did when receiving a book from him. Must I relive the college debacle? I can’t just NOT read it, because he WILL grill me on it. Buck up, Kim… read the damn thing already. This was 5 years ago and I just recently found it in the back of the bookshelf. I did end up reading it then… and I thanked Maurice time and again for giving me such a gift. Because, that’s what it truly was. Words can hold such extraordinary power.. So, here’s an enigma: Can cynics really believe in magical thinking? What is magical thinking anyway? I mean… yeah, I’ve read the Psychology Today articles, I’ve gone to freedictionary.com. Is it something that can actually be described or do you need to experience to fully get it? Talk to me. See, because now I’m either going crazy or I’m seeing the signs. I’m remembering in distorted ways… did that really happen or is my head just trying to make me believe… am I replaying the events because I’m looking for clues?Maurice is dead. I can type that. I can be matter-of-fact about it via keyboard. Hell, I can put it in a damn book review. But, you get me to actually SAY the words and I’m using the ol’ ‘Maurice has passed’, ‘Maurice is gone’, anything but the ‘D’ word. Like it may make it less real. “In the midst of life we are in death.” Not just some awesome Smiths lyrics… but a common graveside prayer--and the rest? “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Still looking for clues. As I’m reading the first few pages of TYOMT again, I’m struck at how similar the process is:“ Later I realized that I must have repeated the details of what happened to everyone who came to the house in those first weeks, all those friends and relatives who brought food and made drinks and laid out plates on the dining room table for however many people were around at lunch or dinner time, all those who picked up the plates and froze the leftovers and ran the dishwasher and filled our (I could not yet think ‘my’) otherwise empty house even after I had gone into the bedroom (our bedroom, the one in which still lay on a sofa a faded terrycloth XL robe bought in the 1970s at Richard Carroll in Beverly Hills) and shut the door. Those moments when I was abruptly overtaken by exhaustion are what I remember most clearly about the first days and weeks. I have no memory of telling anyone the details, but I must have done so, because everyone seemed to know them.”This book is full of this type of sameness. Two peas in a pod, Joan and I. I may not be keeping his shoes because when he comes home he might need them (like Joan) but I’m still hanging on to that bottle of Moxie in the fridge…I’m still wondering if him telling me that morning that he wanted to hear my voice because it soothed him was really him telling me that I should have… what? What could I have done? Joan has other tragedies… memories that stretch out to before I was born. She is insightful in such creative, tenacious, concise ways that sometimes I just want to curse her for bringing me there… for making me believe and start to question every action/memory/event of the last 20 years looking for the damn signs… because they were there, right? In the midst of life we are in death. Don’t fucking forget that.

Jessica

For me this book was all about the tension between my hateful, all-consuming envy of Joan Didion for being a rich, brilliant, famous, cool, successful writer with the perfect life, and her obvious point that none of that stuff really matters.I mean, okay, it is way better to stay at the Beverly Wilshire hotel while your only daughter's bruised and swollen brain and dying body are scalpeled apart by the best trauma doctors in the country. This is better than, say, having your daughter get only treatment Medicaid allows and visiting the city hospital when you finish the second shift at your dead-end job, which you have to go to, even though you're insane with grief and terror, because you're one paycheck away from homelessness. As people on here seem fond of noting, yeah, it is way better to have money during such events, and really it's probably nicer to be Joan Didion, rather than somebody else, in most situations, especially ones like these.But it still sucks. A lot.Being Joan Didion and having all her giant heaps of money, brains, and talent, is not currency with much value in the places she travels to in this book, which is part of what makes it such an interesting read, instead of just a well-written and deeply personal description of grief, which, of course, it also is.

Alex

This is the second book my girlfriend has recommended to me about people whose spouses die. So...There's a clinical feel about this book. Not accidentally: Didion goes out of her way to cite research on the effects of grief. She analyzes it. You can feel her standing back from it, trying desperately to understand it. It lacks the emotional punch of (the other depressing-ass book my girlfriend convinced me to read) About Alice, and it does that on purpose. This is how Joan Didion works, I guess: she tries to dig in and understand. She's "a cool customer," as a hospital worker describes her at the moment of her husband's death. "What," she wonders, "would an uncool customer be allowed to do?"I told Jo that I connected with About Alice more, emotionally; this seemed more like a description. Someone said here on Goodreads that it was nice to hear a story about a real passionate love affair, and I was surprised; that's not the story I read. It may have been passionate, but that's not in this book. There's not one mention of a passionate moment. Moments of support, absolutely, and of friendship, but never passion. At times I felt like the tragedy here wasn't the loss of love, but the loss of habit.But habit is life, and what Didion is trying to describe is the loss of her life as she knew it. Jo said it nicely: About Alice is about love, she said; Year of Magical Thinking is about loss. I call I die first so I don't have to go through this. It sounds like a bummer.

Samilja

This wasn't exactly what I expected. I knew from an interview with Didion on Fresh Air that the book was written in the year that followed the death of her husband - A year she spent mostly in hospitals at her adult daughter's bedside. The daughter, Quintana, suffered various illnesses and injuries that year, all of them serious & potentially fatal. The medical odyssey had begun just five days before her husband's sudden death from a heart attack. He died, in fact, in the couple's living room having just returned for the night from their daughter's hospital room.What I expected was a memoir of the piled-upon trajedies. I guess I did get that, just not how I'd imagined. I expected emotion and poignant anecdotes that would be intimate but also somehow metaphorical on the grand scale (she is a famous fiction writer after all, if anyone could deliver this it would be her). Turns out, Didion is not a particularly emotive person. She is however a true believer that knowledge is power [reminding me of one of my favorite quotes] and she attacks both her grief and her daughter's poor health as a researcher and investigator. She quickly abandons the grief books of self-help ilk for actual, scientific and psychological studies and treatises. For medical manuals and calling in favors from medical professionals with whom she has one connection or another. Then she studies her self in a remarkably objective manner (perhaps aided by shock?) armed with this new knowledge. I've read some of the other reviews of this book on goodreads and note that those that are particularly critical don't like the coldness with which Didion approaches the book but I took that as self-preservation. She had to keep moving or she might, literally, shrivel up and die. To explore her illogical behaviors (like keeping her husbands shoes even after giving up the rest of his clothes) and her increasingly tenuous grasp on the present (much of the book is expository, with Didion letting present details lead her back to various experiences that she analyzes and re-analyzes with the detriment of hindsight) is her way of keeping afloat. It's those very qualities of her grief, human and irrational, that made Didion, to me, a sympathetic author. The 'magical' thinking in the title refers to her insistence throughout the year, though private and mostly subconscious, that if she could just analyze things correctly or do everything in a particular, precise way her husband would come back and rejoin their life. That's a desperation a lot of us can relate to - even if we muddled through it in ways very different from Didion's. I enjoyed the reminiscing - a peek into the lives of two prominent U.S. authors of the last half century and those with whom they held court. I found Didion's research fascinating and more so the way she applied it to her own circumstance and then considered the data. The book made me think about my own choices and how I might reconsider them in the future, when things are different and the faux security of youth are gone.

sydney

"A memoir...says: This is what my memory insists on, this is what my memory will not let go, these points of memory make me who I am, and all that others find incomprehensible about me is explained by what's in here." -Andrea Dworkin (not from or related to The Year of Magical Thinking)I love memoirs because they're like roadmaps to being a human. They tell you what it feels like to have a certain experience. They don't claim to be the authority on that experience, but they are bold and certain in their truth and honesty: this is what it was like for me. This is how I felt. And when they're done well, they convince: it will be like this for you, too, when it happens, or: I know you know what I'm talking about because you felt it, and maybe you couldn't put it into words, so here they are, finally.I've never lost someone very close to me, so reading The Year of Magical Thinking was more like the former for me. It's the story of the year following the sudden death of Joan Didion's husband. She describes, simply and beautifully, her grief. There's not much else I can say about it. It's not sappy or overly sentimental; it's a plain, true story about surviving someone you love and trying to come to grips with the fact that your life will forever be divided into "before" and "after," or maybe that your old life ended at the same time that theirs did and will never come back. The book mirrors Didion's grief process in that it interweaves stories of her relationship with her husband ("before") to how her life changed after he died ("after"). Highly recommended.

Kate

What has stayed with me most from this book is her idea of "the shallowness of sanity." We move through life as though our days aren't numbered; death or tragedy shocks us into another mental state. "Sanity" involves a kind of denial of mortality.

Don

It has been said that divorce is second in psychological trauma only to the loss of a spouse. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; loss of a child must trump all. In any case, Ms. Didion is of the opinion that loss through divorce is mitigated by the ex-spouses corporeal presence on this fine earth; i.e. they’re still alive and well and accessible. Indeed ex-spouses are a present and constant reminder of failure. They are a walking, talking embodiment of the life you thought you would have forever; gone now, replaced with something you never dared imagine. In one chapter she remembers being 22 years old and scoffing at an author’s grief, a lack of understanding that she presently laments and freely recognizes as youth; refreshing introspection the depths of which few are truly capable. As moved as I was by her introspections and admissions, I was a bit surprised by her inaccurate portrayal of grief through divorce. Joan points out that as a widower she found she irrationally blamed herself for her husbands death. The mighty difference between between losing a spouse to death and divorce is that in divorce, others wonder what you did wrong. How did he screw up? Was he violent? A bad father? Disloyal? Unfaithful? Yes, not only do some wonder, but you imagine that everyone does. Every time you lose your temper, say something stupid, experience a lapse in judgement someone might be thinking, “That must be why she left him.” And someone one probably is. This is the first piece I’ve read by the prolific Joan Didion and I will go back for more. In spite of my disagreements with her assumption on in-experienced grief, I truly enjoy caring enough about a piece of literature to re-evaluate my feelings on such a present subject. The raw candor in which she expresses what are undoubtedly the most painful moments of her life was startlingly eloquent. I can’t wait to see what she has done with fiction.

Sunday

My sympathy for this really, truly awful situation dwindled because I just could not understand what the fuck was going on with her lifestyle. I had to re-read and re-read many passages because "plane" would be used interchangeably with "private jet," so I couldn't understand how they just let her roll from one place to another no charge, etc.Let me start this over.I have loved Joan Didion's writing in the past. Without including herself in the equation, her stories have always been coherent and lovely. This perhaps was too personal? It's so choppy and uneven. Point A to point B just aren't reached with any clarity. And I hate the idea that everything who I've tried to talk about this book with thinks I'm the Grinch because I'm hung up on narrative when people have DIED in this non-fiction. It's not her situation I'm criticizing. It's just structure. I think Didion is blind to the fact that we, her readers, don't know who the hell she is name dropping at all times. Also, I really think she wrote this to please herself, which puts we readers on a boat in the middle of nada ocean. It's a collection of quotes she likes and memories only she can appreciate. Heartless review out.

TK421

I am not the type of person that cries at funerals. I find crying at a funeral as constructive as trying to stop a raging river with a few paper towels and a bag of sand, nothing is achieved. Find me not callous, for I am sensitive to the recently departed and their family. It's just that...I don't know...I know there is nothing that can be done to bring back that person. Rereading the above really makes me sound like an ass so let me try it another way: death is something we all have to accept; my acceptance of death comes more easily than it does for others. Take Didion for example. Here we have a very educated woman who foggily ambles through the year following her husband's (John Gregory Dunne) death. John died of a severe infarction. He had a long history of heart issues. He knew this was the way he was going to die. But even with all this evidence, his personal testimony, Didion finds the death of her husband shocking, as if she were blindsided. (I’ll grant that no one wants to be in mid-conversation with someone when they die.) Now stop cursing me, let me continue. John’s death in-and-of-itself does not make this story compelling. Quintana, John and Didion’s daughter, and her sickness is what makes this story compelling. You see, we are all going to die. Husbands will have to bury wives, and wives will have to bury husbands. That’s life. But none of us ever want to experience having to bury a child. And the way that Didion structures her story allows her to think she is grieving for her husband, when, in reality, she is telling their story to mask the fact that she is scared shitless about losing her daughter. You see, Didion does a great job of recounting the great love her and John shared for almost forty years. But some of the details that she gives the reader really only show that we (the readers) will never know what it was like to live a life with John. We’ll never know what it feels like to get a free ticket on the Concorde; we’ll never know what it’s like to get free tickets from the NBA commissioner; basically, we’ll never know what it was like to live a life of affluence and prestige. But, even without ever knowing this aspect of her life, we will all more than likely at some point fear for our child, which is the bridge that connects us to Didion. During the chaotic (brilliant narration, stylistic technique) timelines and temporal displacements via vortexes, Didion is unable to mask the fear she has of losing her only child. Unfortunately, Didion also realizes that this year of magical thinking is less about her husband and more about her daughter and closes the door for us readers over and over again just as we are about to get a real true glimpse into Didion’s grief. You see, Didion was able to deal with her husband’s death; what she was unable to deal with was the possibility of losing her child. But even with the absence of these concrete feelings, and the insertion of insights from countless psychiatrists and research papers about grief, the story works. Didion understands that she might be able to hide from the reader, allow for what information is passed-along to us, as long as she is able to stay one step in front of her feelings. Fortunately for us, grief and confusion and frustration and anger and misery know no boundaries. What is never said on the written page is said with infinite detail in the between spaces of events and conversations within the story. The year of which Didion chronicles is truly heart-wrenching; I’m pretty sure I would not be able to cope as well as she did. But it is also full of promise, redemptions, and hope. This is a beautiful and tragic story, one that is sure to become a classic concerning death and the grieving process.HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Adrianna

Originally, I read this book as a way to cope with a lot of family deaths that occurred during a difficult time in my life. It was recommended by a user of the Yahoo Cafe Libri Group, but it didn't live up to my expectations. Perhaps the disconnection lay in the fact that Didion suffered from the loss of a spouse whereas my grief was more distant: my cousin, grandmother, uncle, and great uncle all died in relative succession of each other. I also perceive the grieving process as being unique to each individual, and I found that Didion's coping mechanism was not like mine. She found solace in research whereas I felt numb and stopped reading and writing for a long time. I was so unable to control my emotions that I didn't attend all the funerals. Despite grieving differently, I did discover some aspects that Didion and I shared: 1) depression 2) the inability to manage the everyday life, mine surfaced when I lost focus of my educational studies. Unfortunately, these similarities did not endear the book to me. However, I would still recommend The Year of Magical Thinking to any reader regardless of whether one has experienced a close death purely because it is a well-written and interesting autobiography. The entire scope of the book follows the year of Didion's life after the death of her husband and the health complications that are endangering the life of her only child. It's not always a chronological examination because Didion's thoughts are fluid as they are constantly influenced by memories, items, and events that will take the reader to another place and time in her life (I liken these instances as memory triggers). Stylistically, the writing often seems like stream of consciousness, which actually makes the autobiography stand out as an unique representation of one person's life. Contributing to this style, the setting skips from New York, which is where her husband dies, to memories in Hawaii, Paris, and both past and present events in Los Angeles. Despite being difficult to follow the progression of time, Didion's grief is palpable through her memory associations. The purpose for writing The Year of Magical Thinking is for author Joan Didion to analyze and understand her grief. Because it is such a personal story, her development and progression is often internalized and was difficult for a reader to relate to, especially if your thought process works differently. Despite that fact, she effectively develops her own state of mind and effectively explores the personalities of the two most important people in her life: a) her husband (John) b) her daughter (Quintana). She defines her love for both of them and grapples with grief, depression, fear, life, change, and, most importantly, acceptance. She explores the nuisances of language and uses medical and psychological research to maintain control, even though she knows that she can't control or change the past with her knowledge. Yet, it is the research that provides the comfort she desperately longs for. Also, the exploration of passages from her own writing as well as her husband's provide much needed connections between life and death.One of the most disappointing aspects of the book is the lack of photos from Didion's life. True, she paints an emotional and philosophical portrait of the people she loves, but the physical descriptions are lacking, as if her husband was no longer substantial because he was already deceased while Quintana was fast approaching the same result. There is one image on the back cover which is misleading because it was taken in 1976 even though she is writing about the year from December 2003 to December 2004. Originally, I thought her daughter was a child in the autobiography, but it is revealed that she is a recently married adult. Still, the photo has sentimental value and is analyzed by Didion in the book (her daughter and husband are off to the left while she is looking at them from the right side of the patio).Despite the fact that it is an interesting look at Didion's most painful year in her life, I could not relate and thus, my rating dropped considerably. I came looking for consolation and respite from my own painful memories. What I found was an interesting autobiography, but nothing that touched my soul. I was not lead to the path of healing. The research and psychological musings, although interesting, are not the way I cope with grief. I intensely cry at weird moments of the day with an inability to express my sadness. I feel an empty spot in my heart and soul that will never be filled no matter how many years go by. Didion's reliance on outside sources of comfort, such as research, made her appear cold and detached from the entire process. I wanted less studying and more raw emotions, similar to mine own. The disconnection between the author and I was not the most disappointing aspect of this autobiography. The ending was the worst-- it was rushed and almost cliche. I never fully understood how she let go of the pain associated with her husband's death or how the year of her grief became The Year of Magical Thinking (and the title of her book). I attribute this disappointment to the fact that it is a very intimately written autobiography for Joan Didion, not the reader. Even understanding this, I felt cheated. I was left with the same debilitating grief whereas Didion found closure. For this reason, I truly only recommend this book to those looking for a well-written autobiography. Readers who have experienced the death of a loved one should be weary about finding consolation between these pages.

Kylee Hill

I read this book because it got a lot of attention and it "seemed" like I "should". The whole time I was reading it, I had a uncontrollable reoccurring thought: "This rich bitch. Rich bitch. Rich bitch." It seemed funny to me after a while. It was hard to read the most sincere sections with an open mind while this was happening.There is some rumination in this book about the infinite sense of loss surrounding the death of a vital person. There is also a lot of writing about the anger and resentment of a rich person with a lot of connections and power being totally astonished that untimely death can and did happen to a member of the cultural elite. She seems to have an inkling of self-awareness on this point, but it's never explored. She discusses her experience as a smart, rich woman losing the most important person in her life. She discusses doing nothing for months, barely leaving her house, the worry of friends, and name-drops the elite people who cared or were involved with her during that time. She mentions the obituary appearing in the New York Times.She doesn't mention having any thoughts about the plight of people in similar positions without enough money to stop working, or have professional mental health care, or people without the comfort of having done absolutely everything possible with medical care to prolong their husband's life. She doesn't have to mention any of these things, because that is simply not her life or what happened to her; but I don't have to find it compelling, or an accurate portrayal of loss and death for me or most people. This book is not that.Another reoccurring thought I had while reading: "This may be an important historical document for future generations when wealthy people in first-world areas have found ways to preserve themselves beyond death. This may be an important document of the horrors of the early 21st century for rich people.""This may be an important anthropological document for aliens assessing our society in the wake of The Singularity or their takeover of our planet or just our own slow decline and eventual apocalyptic extinction as a result of global warming/energy crisis/biological warfare or some other fucking shit that could feasibly happen in the next 200 years."

Tucker

Didion breaks a cardinal rule of story-writing, which is to have something happen. The only events that occur in this book are the instantaneous cardiac arrest of her husband and an illness that puts her daughter on life support. Even these, due to Didion's weaving, do not feel like ordinary events in a plotline. She tells pieces of the story over and over again through the various angles of memory, as though her grief had been journalled and later assembled as a mosaic instead of in chronological order.The value of the book is as a series of personal and occasionally psycho-academic (but well-integrated) reflections on grief."The Year of Magical Thinking" refers to her denial that her husband is gone for good. Although she does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, nevertheless, she says, she feels certain her husband will come back. In the second half of the book, there is an interesting exploration of the Greek play Alcestis, in which a king begs his family to die in his place. Only his wife volunteers to die, and when Charon comes to ferry her away, the king is racked with guilt. The queen eventually returns from the dead. Didion asks: "If the dead were truly to come back, what would they come back knowing? Could we face them, we who allowed them to die?" There is a meditation on the idea of luck: whether, if one has been lucky in the past, it is appropriate to consider oneself unlucky later on when something bad happens, and whether one should expect that the playing field will eventually be leveled."All year," Didion writes, "I had been keeping time by last year's calendar. What were we doing on this day last year?" She is shocked when she crosses the one-year mark, and realizes she has over a year's worth of memories that do not include her husband. (I would add that this behavior of "keeping time by last year's calendar" is not unique to the death of a loved one; it can happen with any life event that carries a sense of loss, such as a breakup.) Didion's moving conclusion reflects on the tsunami in 2004 that would have eradicated the islands where she once vacationed with her husband. "I know why we try to keep the dead alive. We try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead...Let them become the photograph on the table. Let them become the name on the trust accounts. Let go of them in the water."

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