Customer Reviews for

The Year of Magical Thinking

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

Moving

I read a lot of self-help, psychological and true stories books to expand my understanding of this world. I was interested to give Joan Didion's book a try and was not disappointed.Great moving read!

posted by vickytren on November 4, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

Good prose didn't save this woman in grief.

It is undeniable that Joan Didion knows how to write. She brings us in with her prose and shares with us her life as it suddenly 'changes in an instant'. The book is sad and depressing and unfulfilling. The story is not unique thus for people who have had the experienc...
It is undeniable that Joan Didion knows how to write. She brings us in with her prose and shares with us her life as it suddenly 'changes in an instant'. The book is sad and depressing and unfulfilling. The story is not unique thus for people who have had the experience, I could understand the hook. Her words tell how one must feel but her anticdotes are to particular to her.I don't know her friends and she doesn't tell me enough about anyone to really get to know them, even her husband who she misses so much. The book is just about her views on what happens after someone tries to go on when losing someone close and that is interesting but not enough. The story goes no where. Also, she name drops so often it is boring. These people might be famous in their venue, but I didn't know half of them,nor did I care. The book doesn't build on itself and nothing really happens except her radom memories and the end how she feels that over a year has passed and last year at this time, she didn't share it with her husband because he was already gone by then. I didn't really appreciate this book and wonder why it was such a best seller. Although it wasn't a waste because of her wonderful writing style,and in some ways it was a page turner, I can't say I liked it.

posted by Anonymous on January 23, 2006

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  • Posted November 4, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Moving

    I read a lot of self-help, psychological and true stories books to expand my understanding of this world. I was interested to give Joan Didion's book a try and was not disappointed.Great moving read!

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    From a therapist's viewpoint--Widowhood: Tasks of Coping, Resiliency, Rebuilding

    For clients who have lost a spouse, a child, a beloved family member, or a close friend, I recommend this book as a starting point in investigating the disbelief and numbness that accompanies a sudden death. However, I also recognize that this is not an easy book to read because it exposes raw emotions and forces the reader to consider his/her own views about death and dying as well as grief and grieving.

    Joan Didion is an award-winning writer. However, Didion did not become a well-known name outside of Manhattan publishing circles until 2005 when her 13th novel, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published. It subsequently won the National Book award for nonfiction. With the publication of this work, Didion found a new following of readers, namely, widows and widowers who had lost a spouse or partner unexpectedly. Her public pain, lack of focus, and search for direction at the sudden loss of her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, was complicated by the serious illness of their only daughter, 39-year-old Quintana Roo, who died just a few months before the publication of her mother's ground-breaking novel.

    Didion had just turned 69 years old on December 5, 2003. On December 30th, John Gregory Dunne, her husband and co-writer, died instantly from a heart attack. They had just returned to their apartment after visiting their gravely-ill daughter, Quintana, at Beth Israel North (hospital) in New York City where she had fallen into a coma after being diagnosed on December 25th with pneumonia and septic shock. Ms. Didion's rendition of what happened in the apartment is sparse, terse, impassive, and detached depicting what most literature describe as "the moment of stunned disbelief that the impossible has become real" ( p. 113).

    Losing a spouse after 40 years of marriage is beyond traumatic. The fact that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were collaborators on numerous screenplays and articles as well as collaborators in a longstanding marriage marks the loss as inconceivable, as if one person was not only an extension, but the embodiment of the other. In an interview, Didion confessed that she had difficulty in finishing this book because it was the first writing she had done which John had not read.

    The popularity of Didion's memoir revolves around her candidness about the process of grieving the loss of a loved one and the process of rebuilding some semblance of life after that loss. Her loss is made more salient due to its suddenness and the concurrent stress of her daughter's illness. Moreover, Didion was the person to tell her daughter about her father's sudden death, only to subsequently witness her daughter's death as Quintana was rushed to the hospital with a brain hematoma while returning from her father's funeral. Because the book was in publication at the time of her daughter's death, Didion does not broach the subject of her daughter's death in this book. Rather, she focuses on her own grieving and mourning processes or lack thereof and outlines one of the most difficult developmental tasks of aging: rebuilding a meaningful life after the loss of a spouse.

    Cherie Renfrow Starry
    Private Practice Counselor/Therapist

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2006

    Good prose didn't save this woman in grief.

    It is undeniable that Joan Didion knows how to write. She brings us in with her prose and shares with us her life as it suddenly 'changes in an instant'. The book is sad and depressing and unfulfilling. The story is not unique thus for people who have had the experience, I could understand the hook. Her words tell how one must feel but her anticdotes are to particular to her.I don't know her friends and she doesn't tell me enough about anyone to really get to know them, even her husband who she misses so much. The book is just about her views on what happens after someone tries to go on when losing someone close and that is interesting but not enough. The story goes no where. Also, she name drops so often it is boring. These people might be famous in their venue, but I didn't know half of them,nor did I care. The book doesn't build on itself and nothing really happens except her radom memories and the end how she feels that over a year has passed and last year at this time, she didn't share it with her husband because he was already gone by then. I didn't really appreciate this book and wonder why it was such a best seller. Although it wasn't a waste because of her wonderful writing style,and in some ways it was a page turner, I can't say I liked it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 28, 2009

    Great book for grief and mourning

    Joan Didion's pain and suffering are profound and her loss overwhelming. I found this piece comforting from the point of view of having lost both my parents in the last year. It is intelligent, crisp and compelling. I am impressed with her bravery to write so intimately. Taking this journey with Joan is not easy. I think this book has to come into your life at the right time for you to love it or even appreciate it. Unfortunately, I think that requires having suffered the loss of a loved one yourself.
    This was my first exposure to Didion's work but I have already picked up two other books I hope are just as smart.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Warning: You are now entering a Boredom Zone!

    149 pages of agony....I am sorry to say. I feel really bad for Ms. Didion's personal tragedy that she chronicled for a year. I usually am a fan of the memoir but this left me uninspired. It had glimmers of wisdom and meaning but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    The Year of Magical Thinking

    This was a very interesting book and it had been recommended to me because I have just lost my husband. It was not what I hoping for as far as her experience after her husbands death. The book was too much of their life before his death. It was a good book but just not what I was looking for at the time

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2011

    I kept waiting for it to live up to the rave reviews...

    it never did. I was frustrated by the time I finished this book. I wondered how a person could be so naive as to be surprised when her husband with a failing heart died "so suddenly." I could only guess that this women spent her life denighing that life ends, and that is a part of life, so I couldn't understand or relate at all to where her head was at. Mourn, yes, pain, yes, but to be so surprised by death...not.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

    My favorite book - I have read it several times

    "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." This is how Joan Didion starts her description of surviving the unexpected death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne and the mysterious and ultimately-fatal illness of her daughter, Quintanna, within a single horrible year. Only Joan Didion could bring such heart-wrenching tragedy down to the readable level. It inspires the reader to appreciate every day with family and friends. You never know when "life as you know it ends."

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    What a book! What a story!

    I have recommended this book over and over, especially to people who have lost a spouse. Didion finds the words for the unspeakably difficult time one has when your lover dies and you must find your way through life without them. Her words are like a healing balm that confirm that you are not crazy- someone else in the same boat has gone through this horrific time just as you are. This book helped me find the strength to go on and bring to the surface some feelings that were too confused and random to look at. By doing so, I was able to start to heal. The author also lost her daughter after the book was written, and it stuns me to know she had to go through it all over again...Beautifully written by a woman who lived through the pain. Highly, highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Death in New York

    Although I appreciate that this book is a personal story by Ms. Didion, I am a bit baffled at the acclaim that it has received. Her experience is not particularly unique, and although she writes well and honestly, it is still a story that has been told and experienced by countless others. It is as though her celebrity makes her story particularly interesting in comparison. For me, it did not.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Different than I thought

    I first read a review of this book when it was released two years ago and remember thinking I wanted to read it, but put off actually getting a copy until this summer. When I went to the beach I took it with me and both my husband and best friend asked why I would want to read a book about death at the beach. My usually reading style is to go straight through quickly but with this bookI read it a little at a time and actually spent some time reflecting on it and thinking about it. I really appreaciated how Didion revealed her thoughts and memories and how she got through a very difficult year in her own life. We all face challenges on a daily basis, perhaps not as large or as catastrophic as hers, but it is easy to get bogged down but you must keep going if you are going to live your own life and adapt to what is thrown at you. I especially enjoyed a part about giving away her husbands clothes and shoes, and how she kept thinking that when he came back he was going to need shoes even though she knew he wasn't coming back. The way she grappled with her new reality by remembering the past and considering the future was very inspiring.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Joan Didion deals with grief & shares how to!

    I read this book in two nights. Written about her journey in life processing grief the year following the death of her husband and the near death of her daughter, Joan has written with translucent honesty. I could so relate to many of her feelings. It was a timely read for me. It was a book I'd wondered about before and likely dismissed as too morose or too down, but with Steve's (our 44 year old adult son)death I wanted to read this. "People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces.......These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible.. " That sure struck with me. Lots of truth in here and not answers but just one remarkable story of moving through grief and moving on in life. "Time is the school in which we learn." attributed to Delmore Schwartz leads into the discussion of cognitive deficits which can be associated with grief as well as stress. Fascinating. "I know why we try to keep the dead alive. We keep them alive in order to keep them with us." Yes, I know that, but further she writes, "..we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead....Knowing this does not make it any easier."

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    heartbreakingly brilliant

    Didion's portrait of her husband's death, and her response to his death, sweeps aside decades of psycho-babble in favor of honest emotions, honest grief. A great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 6, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A must read for anyone who has ever lost anyone!

    Joan Didion's story about her life in the year after the death of her husband is gut-wrenchingly tragic, but increadibly healing to read. So many grief books tell you that you have to just "get over it" and "move on" when you lose someone you love, often treating mourning like it's some sort of disease. Didion, on the other hand, takes you with her as she heals. Instead of saying "this is how you get better" she says "this is how it was for me," and in doing so manages to connect with the reader in a way that no other grief book can. <BR/><BR/>I highly recommend this to anyone who has suffered through the loss of a loved one, whether it's recent or ancient. Sometimes all you need is to know that others feel the same way you do and this book will do just that.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    Sad But Provoking

    This is one of the saddest books I've read in awhile. Didion's loss is not highly unusual but her ruminations about how she handles the sudden loss of someone she cherishes are. Those who understand grief will find a connection. Grief is alot more than just the experience of death..it is a roller coaster of emotions that take on a mind of their own.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2006

    Almost 5 stars

    I enjoyed the book very much, but stopped short of giving it 5 stars because it was missing something: The 'zap' I like to get from a story. Otherwise it was very good and I suggest buying it. A few that have that 'zap' are Never Let Me Go and A Year Since Yesterday. Try those along with this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2005

    Completely heart wrenching but loved it

    I recently lost my father and bought this book for my mother with the intent of reading it just to make sure it would be OK for her to read during a very fragile time. I had no idea how this book would overwhelm me. Joan's experiences were eerily similar... sometimes I just had to gasp and set the book down in disbelief. I also had no idea how much this book would hit home with my own grieving process. Having already lost two brothers and now my father, this book took me to places I didn't think possible. Beautifully written -an unexpected page turner.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2006

    Powerful!

    I recently read this book after reading an article about Joan Didion and the book in the New tork Times Magazine section in Oct.05. I could not get enough of the article and then could not get enough of the book. My Sister, age 43, died very suddenly 3 years ago and then a year ago my brother in law, age 46,(my husband's brother) was killed in a plane crash. 'The Year of Magical Thinking' did more for me then speaking to any therapist, clergy person, or friend. Didion put into words, and clarified thoughts that I have been dealing with for 3 years. She did so in a clear, non hysterical, organized manner, that might not make sense to anyone who has not gone through this grieving process.The unexplainable behavior(being a 'cool costumer') and thoughts that I have had , are so powerfully articulated here. Thank you, Joan Didion, for doing what no other person or book has done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2005

    Some Thoughts for Fellow Travelers

    Having put off reading Joan Didion's elegy too long, a moment of introspection about some very sad events of this past year finally brought 'The Year of Magical Thinking' to mind. And after reading this memoir over a couple of hours the messages within are universal and have contributed to a way of re-thinking losses through death. For those who have touched loss of friends, family, or extend those thoughts to include the victims of the too numerous tragedies of this past year, this little book offers an arm around the shoulder, a gesture that we do survive without forgetting, that death is an occurrence in the cycle of life, and that life is precious. Didion's relating the death of her husband, the equally well-known author John Gregory Dunne, and the concurrent near death experiences of her only child Quintana Roo Dunne, is intimate without being maudlin. Her style of writing is straight forward, offering her own manner in which she coped with the abrupt loss of her life mate, with ruminations about the manner in which death steps into our lives, gives warnings, creates vacuums, leaves memories. She separates grieving from mourning in a manner that offers quiet examples of how we as fellow humans can absorb the mystery of death's concluding a life and incorporate that end with the process of moving on. This is a tender, informative, highly personal and brave sharing of the experience of abrupt loss. And in addition to being a well-written book it is a little light for fellow travelers to follow along the path of coping with loss. Grady Harp

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2005

    Put on YourThinking Cap for this Book...

    This is a tough and thoughtful book to read. The reader isn't going to get a self help guide through grief, but it does open the door to understanding Didion's process of living day to day after the death of her husband. It's a fascinating read, and honestly, I am still thinking about the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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