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REVIEW: A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Dear Ms Didion,

didion.gifI found your account of your first year after the sudden and tragic death of your husband, all while dealing with your critically ill daughter’s many admissions to various hospitals, to be deeply moving yet in some ways offsetting and disjointed. I guess that’s due to intermixing the two narratives in a kind of stream of consciousness but at times it was very difficult to follow or make sense of.

It’s the telling of the story of a 40 year marriage that’s filled with joyous highs and unbearable lows and musings on death and grieving which ultimately show how wonderful a man you married and how happy you both were. I think it was the little details that struck me most: how you couldn’t let go of some of his clothes because he’d need them when he came back, how it would be the first time he wouldn’t be there to edit one of your stories, wondering what word he’d been looking up that day in his dictionary, happiness that he’d been there for your daughter’s wedding, the fact that due to her illnesses you had to tell your daughter three different times that her father was dead..

Readers won’t find any self help for grieving here but might recognize the various stages of grief and take comfort that they’re not alone in them. It takes a little effort, I think, for the average person to see past the mention of trendy restaurants, famous people and jetsetting lifestyle but in the end, grief takes the same toll on everyone. I could see the evolution of your grief and your final acceptance that you couldn’t rewrite the end, reroll the film and obtain a different ending. That you had to let go of your belief that you could have in any way changed the outcome of what happened that night your husband died. The book is a tribute to what you had together and I hope brought you peace.


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Kristie(J)
    May 24, 2007 @ 05:36:14

    Thank you for pointing this book out! I think if I could bear to read it, it’s something that would be of help. I really relate to the clothes. I still haven’t been able to go through Ron’s closet or any of his drawers. I still get a real jolt when I come across anything with his handwriting on it and I haven’t been able to change the voice mail on the phone because it’s his voice on it.

  2. Jo Leigh
    May 24, 2007 @ 07:02:11

    My closest friend recently lost her husband, and reading this book helped me understand in a way I never would have. It’s a difficult subject, but one that I feel we’d all do well to acknowledge and talk about. Death in America is treated like a dirty little secret.

  3. Jayne
    May 24, 2007 @ 13:35:53

    Kristie, I’m sorry for your loss. Ms Didion also mentions not changing the message on their answering machine and how coming across little things would bring all the instant pain back to her. She said she couldn’t get rid of things like a set of dried up drawing pens or an alarm clock that didn’t work, just because it was her husband who gave them to her. If you decide to read it, it might be best taken in short stages.

  4. Jayne
    May 24, 2007 @ 13:40:19

    Jo Leigh, I agree with you about how death is viewed in this country. It’s been so sanitized and removed from the mourners. People are made to feel almost guilty for not immediately “getting over it.” Ms. Didion talks about reading an old (very old!) edition, from the early 1920s, of Emily Post’s book on etiquette. She found many of the things discussed in it (the way to deal with grieving families, how to help them) to be more accurate than any modern book or advice she got.

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