I came across this book on the internet and became immediately interested in the concept of magical thinking, in which you attribute meaning and cause-effect patterns to things for which there is no explanation, or for which sometimes, due to circumstances, the explanation is beyond your grasp. Like children, you feel responsible for things you can’t be held responsible for, such as divorce, loss or death.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by writer Joan Didion, is a beautifully written memoir that focuses on the year after she lost her husband to a heart attack and saw her only daughter fighting for her life as a pneumonia evolved to a complete sceptic shock.
Although I never lost someone so close to me, I was able to relate to Joan’s experiences throughout the book, as she describes trying to make sense of the world and maintaining a sense of control while being totally submerged in grief. I could relate to the heavy sense that things can change irrevocably in a matter of seconds (“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.“) as I’ve had that experience for three times in my life. I could relate to being perceived as someone who is dealing very well with everything while being completely torn to pieces inside, alienated, running on autopilot. I could relate to the burden that memory becomes after loss – memory, so crucial for understanding who we are and yet dragging us down like stones around our neck every time it forces us to relive moments at inappropriate times. I could relate to how the fear of more loss and the desperation to understand what went wrong makes us go through every little mistake we might have made and what we could have done to prevent it – and makes us feel superstitious, trying to read meaning where there’s none. I could relate to the fear of having no one there should something happen to me. I could relate to the cognitive deficits that come with stress or grief. And I could relate to her complaint that nowadays we are so much surrounded by information that we’re constantly reminded we can avert death and if we can’t we only have ourselves to blame.
Joan Didion’s writing is clear and stripped of artifice, and yet surprisingly eloquent, poetic, and poignant. This is a book that definitely made sense to me at this point in my life and I’m so glad I read about it and decided to pick it up.