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Inspiring,
Insightful,
Brilliant

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The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion

Published: 2005-10-04
Hardcover : 227 pages
84 members reading this now
58 clubs reading this now
30 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members
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 ...
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Introduction

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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

1.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Consider the four sentences in italics that begin chapter one. What did you think when you read them for the first time? What do you think now?

2. In particular, address “The question of self-pity.” Does Didion pity herself? In what ways does she indulge that impulse, and in what ways does she deny it?

3. Read the Judges’ Citation for the National Book Award, above. Why do you suppose they deemed the book a masterpiece of investigative journalism?

4. Discuss the notion of “magical thinking.” Have you ever experienced anything like this, after a loss or some other life-changing occurrence? How did it help, or hinder, your healing?

5. Do you think Didion’s “year of magical thinking” ended after one year, or did it likely continue?

6. Consider the tone Didion uses throughout the book, one of relatively cool detachment. Clearly she is in mourning, and yet her anguish is quite muted. How did this detached tone affect your reading experience?

7. How does Didion use humor? To express her grief, to deflect it, or for another purpose entirely?

8. Over the course of the book, Didion excerpts a variety of poems. Which resonated for you most deeply, and why?

9. To Didion, there is a clear distinction between grief and mourning. What differences do you see between the two?

10. One word critics have used again and again in describing this book is “exhilarating.” Did you find it to be so? Why, or why not?

11. Discuss Didion’s repetition of sentences like “For once in your life just let it go”; “We call it the widowmaker”; “I tell you that I shall not live two days”; and “Life changes in the instant.” What purpose does the repetition serve? How did your understanding of her grief change each time you reread one of these sentences?

12. The lifestyle described in this book is quite different from the way most people live, with glamorous friends, expensive homes, and trips to Hawaii, Paris, South America, etc., and yet none of that spared Didion from experiencing profound grief. Did her seemingly privileged life color your feelings about the book at all? Did that change after reading it?

13. At several points in the book Didion describes her need for knowledge, whether it’s from reading medical journals or grilling the doctors at her daughter’s bedside. How do you think this helped her to cope?

14. Reread the “gilded-boy story” on pages 105–6. How would you answer the questions it raised for Didion?

15. Is there a turning point in this book? If so, where would you place it and why?

16. The last sentence of the book is “No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.” What does this mean?

17. Didion is adapting The Year of Magical Thinking into a play bound for Broadway. How do you imagine its transition from page to stage? Would you want to see the play?

18. Before The Year of Magical Thinking, had you ever read any of Joan Didion’s work? Do you see any similar themes or motifs?

Copyright © 1995-2006 Random House, Inc. All rights reserved

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "An account of how a brilliant author moved through grief into mourning."by corron (see profile) 07/26/10

 
  "What's the big deal about this book?"by tia (see profile) 11/03/08

Most of us in the group (there was one exception) didn't get why this book has won so many awards. We didn't think the writing was all that great and didn't get any new insights from the author about the... (read more)

 
  "a difficult subject yet one which needs to be addressed....the book club setting gives that opportunity."by doneilbat (see profile) 06/15/08

We read this book as our first choice as a new book club. The group was evenly divided between liking and not liking it, many feeling that the author was too self absorbed, too egocentric while being... (read more)

 
  "A good Book to make you think about appreciation for the small things with your husband/wife"by arnwine6 (see profile) 06/15/08

Like the book, not all members of club liked it, they condsidered it a bit of a downer.

 
  "Too self serving. She did not inspire me to care about the players"by rbruno (see profile) 06/13/08

 
  "Passionless book inspires passionate discussion"by rkarpinecz (see profile) 06/13/08

Only one of nine group members favored this account of Didion's journey following her husband's death.

Grief is very personal. Didion chose to present her grief to the world but, she d

... (read more)

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