Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking

I'm ashamed to say, as a journalist who loves literary journalism, I haven't read much Joan Didion. But, when her book The Year of Magical Thinking came out, I felt drawn to it. The reviews were over-the-top good for this book, and I was going through a particularly difficult time with an illness in the family, too.

In this book, Didion describes a year in her life when her daughter fell into a coma unexpectedly and for unknown reasons, and just days later, after visiting her at the hospital, Didion's husband died instantly at the dinner table from a heart attack. The book starts there. It describes the moments right after he fell out of his chair, the medics arriving, the trip to the hospital, the days that followed. It describes her visiting her unconscious daughter, who eventually does wake up, and having to tell her that her father passed away months earlier. They waited to have the funeral until her daughter was well enough to go. Which, in a way, postponed Didion's own grieving.

The feelings Didion describes - expecting him to be there when she gets home, coming across something of his months later, cleaning out his closet - are heart breaking. She has such random thoughts about him, that to some, she may seem off her rocker. However, if you've ever lost someone close to you - even if it's a pet or just an awful break up of a relationship - you completely understand her. I choked up with every chapter - every chapter. Being newly married at the time, it made me realize even more how heartbroken I will be if hubby should be the one to go first.

This book made me unbelievably sad - not in a depressing way that I wouldn't recommend it to others - but what made my heart break even more was to learn that after the book was published, Didion's daughter fell ill again and passed away, too.

What books have made you feel an emotion - sadness, happiness, anger - so completely?


willikat said...

oh god, that book was so genius. she is such a spectacular writer. i had a lot fo the same reaction as you. . . reading while my dad was sick. . . i bawled my way through the kite runner, where the red fern grows, the lovely bones. . . i laughed hysterically throughout all of sedaris' books. i felt completely consumed by random family by adrian nicole leblanc. . .oh, the books! i could go on for paragraphs.

TheElementary said...

An excellent question to ask of readers!
I thought that 'The Remains of the Day' was a very moving book about loss, nostalgia and the best years of life being in the past. Something we might all have to face someday, and so real.
It was beautiful but it makes me sad to read it.
Your comments on Didion reminded me of another book: Isabelle Allende wrote a book called 'Paula'. It is about her daughter who fell into a coma and passed away after a long illness. Allende is a marvellous writer.
Wonderful blog, I do enjoy reading.