#50: My Year of Magical Thinking
(I just realized that the numbers on my 50 book challenge list could be misleading you, my gentle readers. The numbered order in which they were originally set was based on the alphabetical order they are in, not the chronological order I read them in. So, for example #50 on the list is My Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, but I certainly HAVE NOT already read 50 books this year. Just clearing that up).
Preamble and all.
So here we are. At probably one of the most anticipated titles on my list (for me). And I am just not all that sure how I can possibly best describe my reaction to this book. It moved me, inspired me, depressed me, and gave me hope all at the same time. It spoke to the mother in me, the child in me, the partner in me, the skeptic in me, and the sometimes over-the-top anxiety-ridden woman in me.
This is Joan Didion's story of the year that followed her husband John Gregory Dunne's sudden death and her daughter's serious illness. It is the story of a woman who meets hell head-on and somehow somehow lives to write about it. When I first heard about this book, I must admit my first reaction was "I don't think I could ever read that. It would be so sad and give my brain more fodder for fear about death than it needs." And sure - it is sad and it does go into the heart of grief. She doesn't shy away from the horrible awful condition of grief - the endless days of remembering moments from the past and living in those moments, and the questions about destiny and fate. Didion constantly reminds the reader and herself about the expectations one has of life itself - of the apparent meaningless of it all, when death is always so close to us.
But what is absolutely amazing about the book is its focus on survival: death and devastation engulf Didion that year but yet she comes out of it. Still grieving, yes. Still questioning, yes. But she does emerge. And I suppose that is what spoke to me the most - the "surviving it" aspect. I realize that sounds a bit platitudinal, as we all know people who survive terrible ordeals and live to tell the tale afterward. Yet somehow, through reading Didion's mastery, I get it.
One of my most favourite passages of this book comes at the very end, as the year is drawing to a close. Didion is talking about a memory she has of her husband from the late 70s, when they traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. They were swimming in some caves and were navigating the power of the tides. I will leave you with it, with the hope that you might decide to take this book on yourself. It will be worth it.
(page 227)"The tide had to be just right. We could only have done this a half dozen times at most during the two years we lived there but it is what I remember. Each time we did it I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. John never was. You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that."