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The Year of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking
Both Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were agnostic about everything except communicating truth by putting the right words in the right order. Even when stress overwhelms her she is careful with language, stating only her actual experience: "Tightness in the throat. Choking, need for sighing."

John Leonard says "I've been trying for four decades to figure out why her sentences are better than mine or yours...something about cadence." Lean, commaless prose has always been Didion's trademark, but in The Year of Magical Thinking she pares her sentences down as if she is re-learning how to put words together. Having been blindsided by a loss she deluded herself into believing would not occur, her life now depends on eliminating falsehoods.
Even when her beliefs are irrational, she is meticulous about reporting them truthfully - precise descriptions of her derangements give her someplace to begin, a few reliable facts on which to build a new vision of life that integrates uncertainty. She finds that a line T.S. Eliot wrote in the wasteland of Europe after World War I fits her attempt to use words again, as she stands in the blasted landscape of her widowhood: "These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

The Year of Magical Thinking is a compelling read, as we follow Didion through the failure of her belief system to sustain her in extreme stress, to her derangement and the gradual integration of her understanding of her tragedy into a more reliable vision. Along the way, she reveals the communality of grief by describing in searing detail how raw emotional pain can engulf even the most defended and privileged among us.

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