Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

I'm all about memoirs, but this one didn't really impress me all that much. I just finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; the piece was alright, but I don't know if it is so good to be nominated as a finalist for a Pulitzer.

The Year of Magical Thinking is about Didion dealing with her grief after her husband dies of a heart attack. Didion replays the events and those following it. Not only did her husband die suddenly, but her only daughter was in the hospital for bleeding in the brain. She ended up dying a year after her husband, John Dunne, died, right before the publication of the book. Didion refused to change the manuscript and allowed for her death to not be discussed in the book.

Besides telling of the events and her feelings, Didion also did a considerable amount of research. The research on death and grieving is sprinkled in throughout the book. To be quite honest, I thought it was a bit much at times. I would rather hear her focus on the event with a little bit of research and then have her muse over both findings.

To be quite frank, I thought that the book jumped all over the place. There really wasn't a clear trajectory or direction that she was going. The beginning seemed to have a direction, but then it started jumping from place to place after chapter one. It was hard for me to get hooked because it was hard to follow the story. She would also randomly throw in memories that her and John had together, but I wondered the purpose. I know she was recalling events to try to grieve, get over it, and recall events that could have prevented the death, but they didn't seem to have a purpose or a flow. It made it difficult for me to get into the book.

However, the book's title is very clever. "The title of the book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away Dunne's shoes, as he would need them when he returned." That is very smart. There are many connections to this in her small stories that surface in the book.

I think it's insane that some people have to go through severe traumas like this. Her whole nuclear family dies within a year of each other--one was even in the hospital at the time. It must seem like the world is falling apart. I can see how one could easily lose faith at this time.

I picked up the book because of this horrible situation. I thought that anyone who went through this kind of situation would definitely have a lot to say on death. It would be very wise and helpful to others. She does have good thoughts and points here and there, but my interest in the book slowly faded. I think it must be writing style or the way the book was put together.

I couldn't imagine being in Didion's shoes: who can? Having such a deep connection with a soulmate like that must be very hard to give up and accept. And it all happens in an instant. One major point she was trying to get across in the beginning is how ordinary the day of death is. Nothing seems to be out of place. No one thinks anything of what will happen. Then it is sudden. It's like the morning of Pearl Harbor. Victims note how calm and normal that Sunday morning was. No one saw the attacks coming. The same thing goes with September 11th. What an ordinary day; no one foresaw the tragedies to come. How true is all of that.

Writing about the experience must be entirely theraputic as well, but it must have been extremely difficult to write because you have to relive everything again. Or maybe it's good to relive it. It might help you get over it.

I might sound harsh about the book, criticizing it, but I know the book had good intentions. It just wasn't my cup of tea. It wasn't a clear story, the memoir I'm used to reading. I bet this book would help a lot of people, and for that purpose, I'm glad it's around. It just wasn't something I was into.

And believe it or not, they've made this book into a Broadway play that stars Cate Blanchett and drags on into the death of her daughter. Imagine that.

Anyway, what do you think of The Year of Magical Thinking?


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