The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was in a stack of books a friend was giving away. I had been wanting to read it, but I knew it would be difficult. I had seen the documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, and I knew her story. I had to be prepared to be drawn into her grief. I’m glad I read this book.
At about the same time I started the book, I watched a documentary about the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking. In the documentary Hawking’s brilliant discovery of the radiation around black holes was discussed. I am not much of a scientist, but any topic on the edge of human knowledge fascinates me. At first Hawking thought that everything was drawn into a black hole resulting in a singularity. Eventually the math led him to a different conclusion. There are particles of radiation that can escape a black hole and remain on its edge. All is not lost. This seemed parallel to the vortex that Didion describes as she puts words to the workings of her mind desperately trying to come to terms with the shock of her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness. For Didion, it seemed that almost any thought could trigger an endless mental trip that ended in the singularity of her grief. But her whole personhood was not swallowed up. She did not disappear into the abyss. Around the edges of her “vortex” were the pieces of herself that were not lost forever.
I know some of you have read The Year of Magical Thinking. To the rest, I recommend this amazing testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit.
3 comments on “The Year of Magical Thinking”
Barbara, your beautiful mind pulled the experience of reading the book and watching the documentary together. I loved reading this response to their call to you. I, too, am fascinated by science. I watch PBS programs like Nova, am delighted by the workings of the universe and want to write a poem afterwards to express that delight. I know I must have the science all jumbled but, hey, that’s not the purpose of the poem!
Thanks for a great start to my day.
Hi Barbara ~ I love this review. I read the book several years ago, and parts have drifted into the black hole of my memory, while others have remained and show up in waves every now and then…. Joan Didion- I always think of as someone who can see right through any b.s. And I do think there is quite a bit of b.s. surrounding grief, and how we are *supposed* to handle it.
When I was going through some of my hospital adventures earlier this summer, I kept thinking- this is not how I would have expected this kind of fear to feel. It felt so normal in a way- that life and events were so simply what they were- doctors coming and going, blood pressure cuffs and thermometers every four hours or so… My anxiety and nervousness seemed better suited for lesser situations.. which seems weird, right? I wouldn’t say it was a sense of calm that came over, but rather a feeling of reality, of authentic experience. “It is what it is” comes to mind.. Anyway, I don’t mean to go off on a tangent- but something about “The Year of Magical Thinking” felt outside of normal experience, but much closer to the way things actually are. And Didion’s sharing how her mind was actually experiencing these events is an extraordinary gift of what remains on the edges of the black hole…
Forgive my ramblings, your post on this book really struck a chord in me 🙂
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I read this book in the winter reading session and now understand why it is so highly recommended- Teri is right, she can see through bs and it’s critical in a topic so complex as grief.