Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking has been on my radar for a while. When I happened to spot it out of the corner of my eye on a trip to the library, I grabbed it and added it to the pile.
I have mixed feelings about this one. Ms. Didion is a great writer and I found myself bargaining to just read another chapter or two. That being said, I felt like I was intruding on something very personal. This book deals with the year after the sudden death of her husband, a year in which she spends a majority of her time at the bedside of her only daughter who remains in a coma. 
While reading this book, I felt like I was looking out my car window at an accident on the side of the road. My instinct was to look away, and yet I was intrigued. We are used to reading about moments of crisis, a time of grief, but to read an entire book about the mourning process is tough to take.
Didion is surprised to find that mourning is often unemotional – there are not fits of weeping or crazy decisions. She seems rational to the people around her, but she imagines ways in which her husband could come back to her. Like any writer or lover of words, she turns to books. She studies medical textbooks and journals to discover exactly what happened when her beloved husband left her and what kept her daughter alive. She reads passages about life and death and love from books that she loves, books she has written herself, and books written by her husband, looking for the right words for her grief.
“I know why we try to keep the dead alive; we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us,” she writes. “I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table. Let them become the name on the trust accounts. Let go of them in the water. Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.”
I will look out for another book by Ms. Didion, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was witnessing something that was not mine to see. 

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