03 August 2011

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir of the year in her life after her husband of 40 years (fellow writer John Gregory Dunne) died of sudden cardiac death. During the months surrounding John's death, their only daughter, Quintana, was in a hospital, in a coma, suffering from septic shock.

Grief is common, but Didion has the uncommon trait of being detached enough that she could dissect her grief and commit it to paper. So she was able to pick apart the state of derangement that she found herself in. When people think about loss and the prospect of grieving, they expect to be inconsolable, perhaps unable to function, unreachable in a way. They do not expect to be "literally crazy," as Didion characterized her own mental state when she realized she was unable to throw out John's shoes, because, well, how would he get around when he came back? That is the sort of thing that (if you were in Didion's shoes) would seem to clearly indicate that part of you had abandoned rationality and taken up "magical thinking", and yet, remarkably, it would go unchallenged and possibly unrecognized unless you had explicitly articulated it!

There is little inspirational advice for coping here; just Didion's bare and unfiltered retelling of the event, its fallout, and the strange ideas that her derangement led her to. A very personal account, and a sad but satisfying read (especially if you recognize bits and pieces of Didion's derangement in yourself); recommended.

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