Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” 

― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


When a friend recommends a particular book, I take note, and read. Over a decade ago, I recall sitting in my office chipping away at the day’s to-do list. When late in the morning, in walked a colleague of mine, whom at that point, I considered a close friend. She sat down and told me that I “needed” to read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Emphatically, she proceeded in her review of a book that she was sure would meet me where I was in my own swirl of grief—just as Didion’s words had connected to my friend in a similar time of sorrow in her own life. You see, this colleague-friend of mine and I belonged to the same group: people grappling through the layers of grief due to the death of a loved one from cancer. My friend, she also knew of my miscarriages and just how poignant those shocking and detrimental losses affected my sensitive soul.

The Year of Magical Thinking is one of those books that I’ve kept over the years, re-read a couple of times, and recommended to other friends, as well. Now, in full disclosure, I’ve read some negative reviews online about this book, it’s style, and substance. Some readers have been put-off by Didion’s speak of the glamorous life she and her husband and daughter led together. That she included this as part of her story has never bothered, nor offended me. Who am I to judge someone just because they had ties to the rich and famous? Just because the author ran in circles with some well-known individuals, that fact doesn’t lessen her right or capacity to grieve the loss of her beloved spouse and daughter—the two people she knew and loved the deepest; their lives infinitely bound by everyday life, family time, and simply being together.

What I found the most triumphant about this memoir of loving and losing is that the author wrote from the very moment her experiences of shock and loss began. The act of writing her story helped to heal her, make sense of the devastating losses, and became the vehicle for which she drove her memorial story toward the truth and beauty of her two loves—to preserve them as she knew them best—and to release them, along with her immediate levels of sorrow, as the year closed in. Didion writes so beautifully of her compounded grief and her words in The Year of Magical Thinking are lyrical harmony; truly magic on the page.

“I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say or do comes to me as naturally as breathing.”

― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

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