Grief and Its Derangements Aug 13, 2007
Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir of grief. It recounts the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne, with whom she was married for almost 40 years, and their daughter Quintana's serious illness. The eponymous "magical thinking" refers to the irrationality of grief--Didion refused to sell her husband's shoes, believing that he would return--the habits by which one avoids memory, the lies one tells oneself in order to hope, the movement from grieving to mourning, and the epiphanies of unbelief.
Grief is the most common of derangements, Didion writes, yet Emily Post's antique etiquette book about the bereaved and the grieving rituals seemed truer to the author than the contemporary literature of self-help, most of which she found useless. Didion has always been the most acute seismographer of psychic, emotional, and social tremors, particularly her own anxiety, but here she turns her antennae to the most heartbreaking and universal of conditions. Critic John Leonard wrote that he couldn't imagine dying without having read this book. I agree. An indispensable memoir.