Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion (2005)

I haven’t been this disappointed by a book in a very long time. Between the heaps of critical praise and consistent comments of “I loooooved that book” that I kept hearing from friends and friends of friends, I expected to be amazed. Instead, I found Didion’s account of the year following the death of her longtime husband and writing partner self-indulgent, trite, and altogether uninspiring.

Having experienced the death of loved ones myself, I was struck by how flat her words fell on me. They didn’t evoke any of the subtleties or deeper emotion that I thought reading this book would conjure up. My frustration with the book continued to build until I almost gave it up more than once. The Year of Magical Thinking continually struck me as self-aggrandizing and the worst of the “I, me, mine” type of non-fiction that seems all too common these days.

I can’t really explain it other than to say it just didn’t touch me, which came as quite a surprise. I wonder if more time between events (which included her daughter’s fatal illness on top of her husband’s death) and Didion’s writing about it wouldn’t have deepened the prose. Rather than compiling entries that felt ripped directly from her diary (and weren’t terribly unique or profound), reflecting on the experience in time might have given it more poetry.

For a richer account of the grieving process, I highly recommend Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler, a beautifully written work of fiction (review to come).

2 thoughts on “Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    Joan Didions The Year of Magical Thinking is, in a sense, the biography of the authors own grief. These memoirs carefully chronicle her experiences following the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The husband and wife had r…

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