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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  • 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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  • 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 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    Great writing

    From the heart

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2006

    Magical Thinking

    Well-written memoir even though it does jump around, which I understood. In grief and desperation the mind will do that. This work illustrates that even though we may have fame, well-connected friends and a tony address, we are not exempt from having 'life as we know it' taken from us so suddenly. Didion has suffered much in a short time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2006

    If you've been there, you'll appreciate it that much more...

    I put it down once and then picked it up and couldn't stop until I was finished. I found myself sympathetic, grieving, and appreciating this book all at the same time. A work from perhaps the author's worst moments in life and yet I felt it shines as an excellent creative endeavor. I applaud Ms. Didion for her creative mastery and for sharing her story of an experience we will likely all suffer through one day. I'll now look for her other works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2005

    Great read

    Touching, heartbreaking even, and magically inspirational.

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