Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
ISBN: 9781400078431
Pages: 227
Release Date: October 4, 2005
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Audiobook
Source: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In this memoir, Joan Didion recounts the year after her beloved husband John died of a heart attack.  When he died, their only child, a daughter named Quintana, was in the ICU and it was unclear whether she would make it or not.  Didion deals with her grief over John’s death while also fighting for her daughter and trying not to think about where she would be if Quintana died as well.  Didion calls this year of reflection her year of magical thinking.

Review:

The Year of Magical Thinking is an intensely personal book about the nature of grief.  It starts with John’s death on December 23; only later does the reader discover that Joan’s daughter is also in a hospital.  It’s difficult to imagine the grief at losing one’s husband and life partner, while simultaneously dealing with the terror that one’s daughter might be next.  Didion is incredibly cool and detached for much of the book, never letting emotions overwhelm her.  She does her best to sort through her feelings and thoughts without getting lost in her grief.  Being able to function each day, if only for Quintana’s sake, is very important to her.

It’s difficult to determine why a book that centers on grief and loss has such wide appeal, considering many try to shy away from the darker aspects of life in their reading.  However, in The Year of Magical Thinking, I believe it’s Didion’s emotional detachment that appeals to readers.  While sometimes this can be a turn-off (we like to see people wail when their husbands die, otherwise they aren’t grieving properly), in this case it works very well.  It’s a memoir about moving on with life, about learning to live again without the person who you talked to every single day. 

I listened to The Year of Magical Thinking on audio, and it really worked well in this format.  The reflective nature of this book, as well as the fact that it meanders quite a bit as Joan contemplates her situation, were well suited to an audiobook.  The book was unabridged and ran about 5 hours.  The narrator, Barbara Caruso, did an excellent job and was exactly what I would have imagined Joan Didion sounding like.  Her voice worked well and was very expressive, yet maintained Didion’s detachment throughout the narration.

The Year of Magical Thinking was an interesting look at grief and would be a wonderful inspiration to anyone dealing with similar circumstances as Didion was.  It’s beautifully written, deeply personal, and incredibly moving.  Even if you don’t like reading memoirs about loss, this one is written such that it’s not depressing.  If you haven’t gotten around to reading The Year of Magical Thinking yet, I definitely recommend it, especially on audio.

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Comments

  1. Wow, what a story! I can’t imagine living through that. I would think you could only write the story in a detached way years after the events.

  2. Wow, what a story! I can’t imagine living through that. I would think you could only write the story in a detached way years after the events.

  3. I remember this book when it came out, and while I admire the author, I wasn’t sure I wanted/needed to read it. It’s probably good there isn’t too much drama or it would be too overwhelming. I just finished Red Hook Road and I feel like I am going to have to pull myself out of a funk…

  4. I remember this book when it came out, and while I admire the author, I wasn’t sure I wanted/needed to read it. It’s probably good there isn’t too much drama or it would be too overwhelming. I just finished Red Hook Road and I feel like I am going to have to pull myself out of a funk…

  5. I bought this book a few years ago and really would like to read it soon!

  6. I bought this book a few years ago and really would like to read it soon!

  7. I just picked up a print copy of The Year of Magical Thinking at a library sale because it looked interesting. I’ve heard it mentioned often since it was published and am looking forward to reading it myself. It certainly sounds like a tough topic.

  8. I just picked up a print copy of The Year of Magical Thinking at a library sale because it looked interesting. I’ve heard it mentioned often since it was published and am looking forward to reading it myself. It certainly sounds like a tough topic.

  9. I picked up this book having no idea what it was about or who the author was. Man was I impressed. Not just with the writing but how Didion deals with her immense loss. I highly recommend this to anyone who is working through their own issues of grief.

  10. I picked up this book having no idea what it was about or who the author was. Man was I impressed. Not just with the writing but how Didion deals with her immense loss. I highly recommend this to anyone who is working through their own issues of grief.

  11. I’ve heard this title several times, but I didn’t really know much about the book. I’ll definitely have to take a look!

  12. I’ve heard this title several times, but I didn’t really know much about the book. I’ll definitely have to take a look!

  13. I read this a few years back and wasn’t 100% sure what I thought of it. She was a bit “detached” in many ways … but yet you could tell that was the only way she could cope.

    I remember looking up her story afterwards and finding out that Quintana did end up dying, which I thought was so horrible. I can’t imagine how she felt after that.

  14. I read this a few years back and wasn’t 100% sure what I thought of it. She was a bit “detached” in many ways … but yet you could tell that was the only way she could cope.

    I remember looking up her story afterwards and finding out that Quintana did end up dying, which I thought was so horrible. I can’t imagine how she felt after that.

  15. I read this one when it came out. I bet it would be pretty interesting on audio. I couldn’t get over how much she went through and how she managed to write about it in such a beautiful way.

  16. I read this one when it came out. I bet it would be pretty interesting on audio. I couldn’t get over how much she went through and how she managed to write about it in such a beautiful way.

  17. This sure is different. And I’ve never used an audio version of any book yet. Somehow can’t relate to it, maybe until i try it 🙂

    Do visit:
    Book Reviews at BookRack

  18. This sure is different. And I’ve never used an audio version of any book yet. Somehow can’t relate to it, maybe until i try it 🙂

    Do visit:
    Book Reviews at BookRack

  19. I hadn’t heard of this upto now and think its a great story. Thanks for this review.

  20. I hadn’t heard of this upto now and think its a great story. Thanks for this review.

  21. Both my mother and I both really liked this book – it appeals across generations due to the quality of writing and the subject matter. I especially liked Didion’s commentary on how your mind works in odd ways after such a loss.

    Good review.

    PB

  22. Both my mother and I both really liked this book – it appeals across generations due to the quality of writing and the subject matter. I especially liked Didion’s commentary on how your mind works in odd ways after such a loss.

    Good review.

    PB

  23. I like the fact that this book isn’t hysterical or overwrought in tone and think that although the subject matter might be a little downcast for me, it might make an interesting read. I actually think I would prefer the audio on this one as well. Thanks for your very reflective review on this book. I don’t think I would have given this one a second thought without having read this review.

  24. I like the fact that this book isn’t hysterical or overwrought in tone and think that although the subject matter might be a little downcast for me, it might make an interesting read. I actually think I would prefer the audio on this one as well. Thanks for your very reflective review on this book. I don’t think I would have given this one a second thought without having read this review.

  25. I read this one when it first came out. I remember being on an airplane and crying uncontrollably. I imagine it would be good on audio too.

  26. I read this one when it first came out. I remember being on an airplane and crying uncontrollably. I imagine it would be good on audio too.

  27. I thought this one was pretty intense. I recently saw it performed as a one-woman play and seeing her facial expressions added a real layer of depth.

  28. I thought this one was pretty intense. I recently saw it performed as a one-woman play and seeing her facial expressions added a real layer of depth.

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