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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking - by Joan Didion - my review

The definition of "Magical thinking is a clinical term used to describe a wide variety of nonscientific and sometimes irrational beliefs. These beliefs are generally centered on correlations between events."

Joan Didion's choice for this book's title is appropriate in that it reflects her mindset as she recounts her experience of year following her husband's death. The book is filled with numerous details surrounding the event itself and so many associations arising from it. Her chronicle is delivered in a dream-like stream of consciousness style of writing that convincingly evokes her sense of loss, her state of loss and her need to maintain some semblance of connection to the man with whom she spent four decades of her life.

It is a heart rending story that is equally melancholy as it is effective in conveying the lonely, meandering state Didion drudged through attempting to make sense of it all. It is a sad, honest depiction of how she coped with the loss.

Relying on her journalistic skills, she researched the many aspects surrounding death. The insights offered from literature to medical sources provide a unique learning experience while the story progresses.

If there is anything I find objectionable or perhaps unnecessary, it is the references to her elevated social status. Some details like name dropping or describing physical possessions almost sounded like advertising for certain clothing items or restaurants. I suppose however, such references to the 'good life' serve to illustrate that death is unfazed by our social position or net worth and - more importantly - we all suffer the same.

The materialistic references seemed to act as anchor points for the author. Perhaps this is more a demonstration of her attempt to use total recall as a means of not letting John's memory die. Nevertheless, it just seemed gratuitous and irrelevant in the overall scheme of her story. That is what caused me to rate the book 3 stars rather than 4 (out of a possible 5).

Because of her thoroughness of exploration, I was able to cull out many references which I intend to follow up on (eg "How We Die" by Sherwin Nuland).

This is my first experience reading Joan Didion and I like her craftsmanship."The Year of Magical Thinking," is informative and not at all contrived. It is a touching account. Joan Didion's style is relaxed, straight-forward and easy to read. I look forward to reading more of her novels in the future.


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