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The Year of Magical Thinkingby Joan Didion
Best book of 2005, favorite book of the year...Slice the question any number of ways, but the book published last year that I'm most grateful for having read is The Year of Magical Thinking, a devastating affirmation of love and commitment, hope and despair, life and death.
"Readers of average and above sensitivity will not find The Year of Magical Thinking easy going; melancholy, loneliness and mortality are waiting with the turn of nearly every page. But it is also written in Didion's usual spare, dramatic prose, and it is also a love story, with its telling flashbacks from an unconventional forty year marriage that nonetheless revolved around children, meals, fireplaces and hotels in Honolulu. Didion ultimately offers a fiercely intelligent portrait of grief, at a time when that particular experience is so often treated gingerly, sappily, and then hidden away." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Didion's memoir of her year of mourning is largely a story of her growing self-awareness of the futility of attempting to control events that are beyond any mortal's control. Although there are moments when she tries to reckon with her feelings of powerlessness...her constant need to detect, and to expunge, all signs of self-pity...means that even her book's occasional inward moments have an emotionally detached feel." Rochelle Gurstein, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
From one of America's iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage — and a life, in good times and bad — that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.
Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later — the night before New Year's Eve — the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.
This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness...about marriage and children and memory...about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."
"Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne's death propelled Didion into a state she calls 'magical thinking.' 'We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss,' she writes. 'We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.' Didion's mourning follows a traditional arc — she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief — but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. 'Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age.' In a sense, all of Didion's fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. 60,000 first printing; 11-city author tour. (Oct. 19)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] master essayist, great American novelist, and astute political observer....[A] remarkably lucid and ennobling anatomy of grief, matched by a penetrating tribute to marriage, motherhood, and love." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion's earlier writing." Kirkus Reviews
"[T]he predominant atmosphere is one of authentic suspense that makes for a remarkable page-turner. As always, Didion's writing style is sheer and highly efficient." Library Journal
"[A]n utterly shattering book that gives the reader an indelible portrait of loss and grief and sorrow, all chronicled in minute detail with the author's unwavering, reportorial eye....[P]rovides a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage, an extraordinarily close relationship between two writers." Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times
"[A] spare and searing memoir....
"This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage." The New Yorker
"Didion's book is thrilling and engaging — sometimes quite funny....Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative." Robert Pinsky, The New York Times Book Review
"The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion's confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty....It is also as close as Didion will be able to come to a final conversation with John Gregory Dunne." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
"This is a sad and anguished book, told in some of the plainest, yet most eloquent prose you'll ever encounter. Everyone who has ever lost anyone, or will ever lose anyone, would do well to read it." Seattle Times
"The book is an exacting self-examination, but it is also a heartbreaking, though far from sentimentalized, love letter, engrossing in its candor." The Boston Globe
About the Author
Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.
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