The Year of Magical Thinking

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Overview

Didion's journalistic skills are displayed as never before in this story of a year in her life that began with her daughter in a medically induced coma and her husband unexpectedly dead due to a heart attack. This powerful and moving work is Didion's "attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." With vulnerability and passion, Joan Didion...
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The Year of Magical Thinking

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Overview

Didion's journalistic skills are displayed as never before in this story of a year in her life that began with her daughter in a medically induced coma and her husband unexpectedly dead due to a heart attack. This powerful and moving work is Didion's "attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." With vulnerability and passion, Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience of love and loss. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, wife, or child.

Winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
During the Christmas holidays in 2003, novelist Joan Didion began a month of hell. Just a few days before Christmas, Didion and her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, watched helplessly as their newly married daughter, Quintana, came down with what seemed to be the flu, then contracted pneumonia, which led, within days, to complete septic shock and system breakdown. A week later, as Quintana hovered close to death, Dunne collapsed and died. Didion plunged into a mad state of "magical thinking." Her response was unfathomable: "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and might need his shoes." A mourning no one could ever imagine.
Robert Pinsky
Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative…As in Didion's previous writing, her sense of timing, sentence by sentence and in the arrangement of scenes, draws the reader forward. Her manner is deadpan funny, slicing away banality with an air that is ruthless yet meticulous.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
In her devastating new book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Ms. Didion writes about the year she spent trying to come to terms with what happened that terrible December…It is an utterly shattering book that gives the reader an indelible portrait of loss and grief and sorrow, all chronicled in minute detail with the author's unwavering, reportorial eye.
— The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion's confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty. It may not provide "meaning" to her husband's death or her daughter's illness, but it describes their effects on her with unsparing candor. It was not written as a self-help handbook for the bereaved but as a journey into a place that none of us can fully imagine until we have been there.
— The Washinton Post
Publishers Weekly
After her husband's fatal heart attack, which came at a time when their daughter Quintana was in intensive care for complications after pneumonia, Didion was labeled "a pretty cool customer" by a social worker because she seemed to be handling these shocks so calmly. Caruso's reading certainly reflects this aspect of Didion's reaction-sometimes her clear, elegant voice seems downright cold, making the listener wish for a little more emotion. The slightly eerie sounds of bells and cello that swell in at occasional breaks in the narration help in this respect, but mostly the audiobook is as straightforward a production as Didion wanted her life to be in that horrible year. Throughout those months, Didion immersed herself in the literature of grief and quotes frequently from poets and writers who helped her come to terms with her pain. Caruso does a good job with these passages, lingering on and highlighting certain phrases that Didion returns to time and again, shifting their meaning slightly as she progresses. Despite trying to write in an almost clinically detached way, Didion's sorrow and anger do break through at times in the book. Unfortunately, Caruso's cool reserve never cracks, so this audio ends up making less of an impact than the National Book Award- winning print edition. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, June 27) (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On December 30, 2003, Didion witnessed the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, from a massive coronary in their living room. The couple had just returned home after visiting their daughter, Quintana, who had been hospitalized and placed on life support several days earlier, diagnosed with a severe case of septic shock. Several weeks later, their daughter recovered, only to collapse two months later from a massive hematoma that required emergency brain surgery and an arduous recovery. (Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died on August 26, 2005.) This work is both a memoir of Didion's family life and a meditation chronicling the course of her grief. Throughout this account she describes her attempts to study grief, reading extensively on the topic because "information was control." While the events and emotions disclosed are tragic and uncomfortable, the author's description of her relationship with her husband and daughter lend beauty to the tragedy. With a wonderfully emotional yet controlled narration provided by Barabara Caruso, this program is a worthwhile listening experience. Appropriate for adult audiences and recommended for all audiobook collections.-Dawn Eckenrode, Daniel A. Reed Lib., SUNY-Fredonia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A moving record of Didion's effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter. In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman's life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion's husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne's death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By "magical thinking," Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief-being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband's clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author's personal suffering and confusion-even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances-without connecting them to thelarger public delusions that have been her special terrain. A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion's earlier writing. First printing of 60,000
From the Publisher
“Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, and memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement . . . sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth.”
—Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

“Stunning candor and piercing details. . . . An indelible portrait of loss and grief.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“I can’t think of a book we need more than hers. . . . I can’t imagine dying without this book.”
—John Leonard, New York Review of Books

“Achingly beautiful. . . . We have come to admire and love Didion for her preternatural poise, unrivaled eye for absurdity, and Orwellian distaste for cant. It is thus a difficult, moving, and extraordinarily poignant experience to watch her direct such scrutiny inward.”
—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Los Angeles Times

“An act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief. . . . It also skips backward in time [to] call up a shimmering portrait of her unique marriage. . . . To make her grief real, Didion shows us what she has lost.”
—Lev Grossman, Time

Library Journal
“You sit down to dinner, and life as you know it ends,” Didion repeats in her hypnotic memoir about her life before and after the death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne. In recounting her mourning with its mixture of loving reflections and painful second-guessing, she finds the words that eluded her for a year. An important addition to the literature of grief. (LJ 9/1/05)

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598955231
  • Publisher: Findaway World Llc
  • Publication date: 10/30/2006
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Meet the Author

Joan Didion
JOAN DIDION was born in Sacramento, California, where she graduated from the University of California at Berkley. She came to New York after winning a contest at Vogue. Her first novel, Run River, was published to much acclaim in 1963. Her first nonfiction work was Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which Alfred Kazin called "some of the best prose written today in this country." She is the author of five novels and seven previous works of nonfiction works. She lives in New York.

Biography

One of the strongest voices in American letters, Joan Didion has made her mark with fiercely intelligent novels (Play It As It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer), insightful nonfiction (Salvador, Political Fictions), and screenplays co-written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne (Panic in Needle Park, Up Close and Personal).

Born in Sacramento, Didion attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1956 with a degree in English. After college, she moved to New York to work for Vogue magazine. Recognized immediately as a talented and insightful writer, she contributed frequently to such diverse publications as Mademoiselle, Esquire, The New York Times, and National Review; and in 1963 she published her first novel, Run River. She and Dunne were wed in 1964; and for the remainder of their married life, they divided their time between New York and L.A., collaborating frequently on Hollywood scripts while developing separate and distinguished literary careers.

In December of 2003, Dunne died of a massive heart attack, while the couple's recently married daughter, Quintana Roo, lay comatose in a New York hospital. Didion spent the next year blindsided by a grief so profound it propelled her into a sort of madness. She chronicled the entire experience in The Year of Magical Thinking, a spellbinding memoir of bereavement written in the spare, elegant prose that has become a hallmark of her work. Published in 2005 (scant months after Quintana's death), this elegiac book -- Didion's most personal and affecting work to date -- became a huge bestseller. It received a National Book Award and was turned, two years later, into a successful Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Since her 1963 debut, Didion has alternated between novels and nonfiction, proving herself a wry and astute observer of America's shifting political and cultural landscape. Written nearly a decade apart, her two essay collections Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) are considered classics of 1960s counterculture. Moreover, the author's identity as a seventh-generation Californian has colored her writing in profoundly significant ways. For our money, no contemporary American writer has examined more deftly the unique role of "place" in everyday life.

Good To Know

A few interesting outtakes from our interview with Didion:

"My first (and only, ever) job was at Vogue. I learned a great deal there – I learned how to use words economically (because I was writing to space), I learned how to very quickly take in enough information about an entirely foreign subject to produce a few paragraphs that at least sounded authoritative."

"I would like my readers to know that writing never gets any easier. You don't gain confidence. You are always flying blind."

Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, co-wrote seven screenplays, including: The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It As It Lays (1973), A Star Is Born (1977), True Confessions (1982), Hills Like White Elephants (1990), Broken Trust(1995) and Up Close and Personal (1995).

She is the sister-in-law of author Dominick Dunne and the aunt of actor/director Griffin Dunne.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

Read an Excerpt

The Year of Magical Thinking


By Joan Didion

Knopf

Copyright © 2005 Joan Didion
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X


Chapter One

1.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file ("Notes on change.doc") reads "May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.," but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.

For a long time I wrote nothing else.

Life changes in the instant.

The ordinary instant.

At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, "the ordinary instant." I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word "ordinary," because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. "He was on his way home from work-happy, successful, healthy-and then, gone," I read in the account of a psychiatric nurse whose husband was killed in a highway accident. In 1966 I happened to interview many people who had been living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an "ordinary Sunday morning" it had been. "It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers. Even the report of the 9/11 Commission opened on this insistently premonitory and yet still dumbstruck narrative note: "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States."

"And then-gone." In the midst of life we are in death, Episcopalians say at the graveside. 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 there 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. At one point I considered the possibility that they had picked up the details of the story from one another, but immediately rejected it: the story they had was in each instance too accurate to have been passed from hand to hand. It had come from me.

Another reason I knew that the story had come from me was that no version I heard included the details I could not yet face, for example the blood on the living room floor that stayed there until Jose came in the next morning and cleaned it up.

Jose. Who was part of our household. Who was supposed to be flying to Las Vegas later that day, December 31, but never went. Jose was crying that morning as he cleaned up the blood. When I first told him what had happened he had not understood. Clearly I was not the ideal teller of this story, something about my version had been at once too offhand and too elliptical, something in my tone had failed to convey the central fact in the situation (I would encounter the same failure later when I had to tell Quintana), but by the time Jose saw the blood he understood.

I had picked up the abandoned syringes and ECG electrodes before he came in that morning but I could not face the blood.

In outline.

It is now, as I begin to write this, the afternoon of October 4, 2004.

Nine months and five days ago, at approximately nine o'clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center's Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in August 2004) more commonly known as "Beth Israel North" or "the old Doctors' Hospital," where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.

2.

December 30, 2003, a Tuesday.

We had seen Quintana in the sixth-floor ICU at Beth Israel North.

We had come home.

We had discussed whether to go out for dinner or eat in.

I said I would build a fire, we could eat in.

I built the fire, I started dinner, I asked John if he wanted a drink.

I got him a Scotch and gave it to him in the living room, where he was reading in the chair by the fire where he habitually sat.

The book he was reading was by David Fromkin, a bound galley of Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?

I finished getting dinner, I set the table in the living room where, when we were home alone, we could eat within sight of the fire. I find myself stressing the fire because fires were important to us. I grew up in California, John and I lived there together for twenty-four years, in California we heated our houses by building fires. We built fires even on summer evenings, because the fog came in. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night. I lit the candles. John asked for a second drink before sitting down. I gave it to him. We sat down. My attention was on mixing the salad.

John was talking, then he wasn't.

At one point in the seconds or minute before he stopped talking he had asked me if I had used single-malt Scotch for his second drink. I had said no, I used the same Scotch I had used for his first drink. "Good," he had said. "I don't know why but I don't think you should mix them." At another point in those seconds or that minute he had been talking about why World War One was the critical event from which the entire rest of the twentieth century flowed.

I have no idea which subject we were on, the Scotch or World War One, at the instant he stopped talking.

I only remember looking up. His left hand was raised and he was slumped motionless. At first I thought he was making a failed joke, an attempt to make the difficulty of the day seem manageable.

I remember saying Don't do that.

When he did not respond my first thought was that he had started to eat and choked. I remember trying to lift him far enough from the back of the chair to give him the Heimlich. I remember the sense of his weight as he fell forward, first against the table, then to the floor. In the kitchen by the telephone I had taped a card with the New York-Presbyterian ambulance numbers. I had not taped the numbers by the telephone because I anticipated a moment like this. I had taped the numbers by the telephone in case someone in the building needed an ambulance.

Someone else.

I called one of the numbers. A dispatcher asked if he was breathing. I said Just come. When the paramedics came I tried to tell them what had happened but before I could finish they had transformed the part of the living room where John lay into an emergency department. One of them (there were three, maybe four, even an hour later I could not have said) was talking to the hospital about the electrocardiogram they seemed already to be transmitting. Another was opening the first or second of what would be many syringes for injection. (Epinephrine? Lidocaine? Procainamide? The names came to mind but I had no idea from where.) I remember saying that he might have choked. This was dismissed with a finger swipe: the airway was clear. They seemed now to be using defibrillating paddles, an attempt to restore a rhythm. They got something that could have been a normal heartbeat (or I thought they did, we had all been silent, there was a sharp jump), then lost it, and started again.

"He's still fibbing," I remember the one on the telephone saying.

"V-fibbing," John's cardiologist said the next morning when he called from Nantucket. "They would have said 'V-fibbing.' V for ventricular."

Maybe they said "V-fibbing" and maybe they did not. Atrial fibrillation did not immediately or necessarily cause cardiac arrest. Ventricular did. Maybe ventricular was the given.

I remember trying to straighten out in my mind what would happen next. Since there was an ambulance crew in the living room, the next logical step would be going to the hospital. It occurred to me that the crew could decide very suddenly to go to the hospital and I would not be ready. I would not have in hand what I needed to take. I would waste time, get left behind. I found my handbag and a set of keys and a summary John's doctor had made of his medical history. When I got back to the living room the paramedics were watching the computer monitor they had set up on the floor. I could not see the monitor so I watched their faces. I remember one glancing at the others. When the decision was made to move it happened very fast. I followed them to the elevator and asked if I could go with them. They said they were taking the gurney down first, I could go in the second ambulance. One of them waited with me for the elevator to come back up. By the time he and I got into the second ambulance the ambulance carrying the gurney was pulling away from the front of the building. The distance from our building to the part of New York-Presbyterian that used to be New York Hospital is six crosstown blocks. I have no memory of sirens. I have no memory of traffic. When we arrived at the emergency entrance to the hospital the gurney was already disappearing into the building. A man was waiting in the driveway. Everyone else in sight was wearing scrubs. He was not. "Is this the wife," he said to the driver, then turned to me. "I'm your social worker," he said, and I guess that is when I must have known.

I opened the door and I seen the man in the dress greens and I knew. I immediately knew." This was what the mother of a nineteen-year-old killed by a bomb in Kirkuk said on an HBO documentary quoted by Bob Herbert in The New York Times on the morning of November 12, 2004. "But I thought that if, as long as I didn't let him in, he couldn't tell me. And then it-none of that would've happened. So he kept saying, 'Ma'am, I need to come in.' And I kept telling him, 'I'm sorry, but you can't come in.' "

When I read this at breakfast almost eleven months after the night with the ambulance and the social worker I recognized the thinking as my own.

Inside the emergency room I could see the gurney being pushed into a cubicle, propelled by more people in scrubs. Someone told me to wait in the reception area. I did. There was a line for admittance paperwork. Waiting in the line seemed the constructive thing to do. Waiting in the line said that there was still time to deal with this, I had copies of the insurance cards in my handbag, this was not a hospital I had ever negotiated-New York Hospital was the Cornell part of New York-Presbyterian, the part I knew was the Columbia part, Columbia-Presbyterian, at 168th and Broadway, twenty minutes away at best, too far in this kind of emergency-but I could make this unfamiliar hospital work, I could be useful, I could arrange the transfer to Columbia-Presbyterian once he was stabilized. I was fixed on the details of this imminent transfer to Columbia (he would need a bed with telemetry, eventually I could also get Quintana transferred to Columbia, the night she was admitted to Beth Israel North I had written on a card the beeper numbers of several Columbia doctors, one or another of them could make all this happen) when the social worker reappeared and guided me from the paperwork line into an empty room off the reception area. "You can wait here," he said. I waited. The room was cold, or I was. I wondered how much time had passed between the time I called the ambulance and the arrival of the paramedics. It had seemed no time at all (a mote in the eye of God was the phrase that came to me in the room off the reception area) but it must have been at the minimum several minutes.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Copyright © 2005 by Joan Didion. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

“Thrilling . . . a living, sharp, memorable book. . . . An exact, candid, and penetrating account of personal terror and bereavement. . . . Sometimes quite funny because it dares to tell the truth.”
—Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Joan Didion’s powerful, National Book Award–winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 142 Customer Reviews
  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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    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 August 29, 2009

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    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

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    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 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."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2009

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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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