The Year of Magical Thinking.
I’ve had The Year of Magical Thinking on my radar for awhile, and last week decided for some reason that it was the book I wanted to read next- never mind I’m still in the middle of several others. So I ended up at my used bookstore on the way home from work (it’s my happy place, and there were several copies of it on the clearance shelf. That, I thought to myself, was a sign.
The book is essentially a very long essay detailing the year after the death of Joan Didion’s husband, John Dunne. It begins just after Christmas 2003 with Joan and John returning from the hospital, where their only daughter, Quintana, is critically ill. He dies suddenly that night at the dinner table, and Joan Didion is left without her husband, writing partner, and best friend of nearly 40 years.
As she sits by her daughter’s side, in both California and New York, her memories of their life together come back to her in waves- at times unbidden and unavoidable. I was reminded of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, as Joan often makes herself think of times before John and Quitana just so memories of them all together “can’t find her,” in much the same way that Joel hides in his childhood memories.
It makes sense that the book spans a year, as it’s nearly impossible for someone to really begin to move on after a death (or end of a lengthy relationship, as I was reminded of) until it is possible to think of this date one year ago and not be reminded of when that person was alive and well and HERE.
Throughout here memories, it is clear how close Joan and John were, and the magnitude of her loss would make me have to stop reading and go hug my partner. I think reading the book was also made harder with the knowledge that Quintana dies the summer before the book is published. Joan was asked if she wanted to adjust the manuscript, and declined, saying, “It’s finished.”
It’s no wonder. How could she bear it?
The mystery, I’ve decided, is not that we will someday die, but that any one of us is able to carry on with so much loss in this world.