The Year Of Magical Thinking
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The book follows Didion's reliving and reanalysis of her husband's death throughout the year following it, in addition to caring for Quintana. With each replay of the event, the focus on certain emotional and physical aspects of the experience shifts. Didion also incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness into the book.
The title of the book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions then an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away Dunne's shoes, as he would need them when he returned. The experience of insanity or derangement that is part of grief is a major theme, about which Didion was unable to find a great deal of existing literature.
Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking between October 4 and December 31, 2004, completing it a year and a day after Dunne died. Notes she made during Quintana's hospitalizations became part of the book. Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died of pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, before the book's publication, but Didion did not revise the manuscript. Instead she devoted a second book, Blue Nights, to her daughter's death.
On March 29, 2007, Didion's adaptation of her book for Broadway, directed by David Hare, opened with Vanessa Redgrave as the sole cast member. The play expands upon the memoir by dealing with Quintana's death. It ran for 24 weeks at the Booth Theatre in New York City and the following year Redgrave reprised her role to largely positive reviews at London's National Theatre. This production was set to tour the world, including Salzburg, Athens, Dublin Theatre Festival, Bath and Cheltenham. The play was also performed in the Sydney Theatre Company's 2008 season, starring Robyn Nevin and directed by Cate Blanchett.
Just weeks after her daughter Quintana lapsed into a coma, Joan Didion's husband of nearly 40 years -- novelist John Gregory Dunne -- suffered a fatal heart attack at their dining room table. Didion's book about their lives together and her life now is called The Year of Magical Thinking. She tells Susan Stamberg how she adjusted to the loss of her husband in 2003 and her daughter two years later.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a masterpiece in two genres: memoir and investigative journalism. The subject of the memoir is the year after the sudden death of the writer's husband. The target of the investigation, though, is the nature of folly and time. The writer attends to details, assembles a chronology, and asks hard questions of the witnesses, most notably herself. But she imagines that the story she tells can be revised, the world righted, her husband returned, alive. What she offers is an unflinching journey into intimacy and grief.
These are the stages of normal grief. People go through them at their own pace and cope with each phase how they know best. It can take months to several years to heal from the disastrous effects of such losses, but eventually, normal grief alleviates.
This is just one moment in an evening of many moments that makes the script for "Magical Thinking" so brilliant, and it would have to be, of course, for how else could anyone sit in the theater for more than an hour and a half, listening to one woman talk about how the two people closest to her died within a space of a year. Not by chance, the fact that Vanessa Redgrave plays Didion is what makes it all possible.
This luminous actor, with her glistening sky-blue eyes, keeps the audience at the edge of their seats, breath held, for the entire time as she relates the sequence of events, and pathways of her thinking, in their most exquisite detail.
It wasn't possible for Didion to accept John's death at first and so she decided he would come back. But still, despite the obvious contradiction here, she realized there would be an obit in