Customer Reviews for

The Year of Magical Thinking

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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 rea...
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

posted by Cherie-Renfrow-Starry on July 26, 2009

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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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  • 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.

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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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  • 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2014

    Oh, jeez..

    Yeah, bad choice of a place for a writing contest. Please ignore the below comments!! >:/ And also, keep everything appropriate. I don't want a se<_>x story, thanks.

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  • Posted November 25, 2013

    her style of writing is enjoyable and easy to read!

    I respect her strength during an unimaginably painful period in her life.
    I fear that her experience will seem foreign, however, to those without the means to stay in in 4/5 star hotels for months at a time, arrange private air transport for the sick, etc.
    Unfortunately, I know too many people whose time was spent in motels across the street from Beth Israel on 16th St in NYC without people who would take your breakfast order, having to move from room to room every few days without the local support system and funds that the author had at her disposal.
    This does not, however, minimize her pain.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2006

    Just ok

    I had heard so many great reviews about this book that I just knew it was going to be great. Unfortunately it wasn't. I kept waiting for the story to be uplifting but rather found myself feeling really down while reading it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2006

    What's with all the Hype?

    I don't know what the fuss was all about this book. A lot of readers recommended this book to me and although i finished this in a day or two, i felt that this book was mediocre. The book was more like a medical manual than a story, however there were some description that i couldn't stop thinking about and it's amazing to see the process of grieving can have such an impact on the mourners.

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