Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Release Date: October 4, 2005
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Audiobook
Rating: 4 out of 5
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.
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.