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The Year of Magical Thinking (Vintage International) [Kindle Edition]

Joan Didion
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (837 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $4.99
You Save: $10.01 (67%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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 Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays. The author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and 11 other works chronicles the year following the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack on December 30, 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Dunne and Didion had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years, and Dunne's death propelled Didion into a state she calls "magical thinking." "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss," she writes. "We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes." Didion's mourning follows a traditional arc—she describes just how precisely it cleaves to the medical descriptions of grief—but her elegant rendition of its stages leads to hard-won insight, particularly into the aftereffects of marriage. "Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age." In a sense, all of Didion's fiction, with its themes of loss and bereavement, served as preparation for the writing of this memoir, and there is occasionally a curious hint of repetition, despite the immediacy and intimacy of the subject matter. Still, this is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne's death, Quintana's illness, and Didion's efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. "She's a pretty cool customer," one hospital worker says of her, and, certainly, coolness was always part of the addictive appeal of Didion's writing. The other part was the dark side of cool, the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad. In 2004, Didion had her own disasters to deal with, and she did not, she feels, deal with them coolly, or even sanely. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 172 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400078431
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 13, 2007)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OI0FS0
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,681 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
680 of 710 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I stayed up almost all might just to finish reading it, unable to put this down, although I confess I had to keep a box of tissues nearby. I've lost 5 people in the last few years and, just recently, another friend and so I related very strongly to this book.

Didion's unflinching account of the sudden loss of her husband (which occurred while their only child was in a coma in a hospital (!)) deserves to be a classic in the genre of books written by and for those who are grieving. It is hard to find books like this, which are both honest but not overly sentimental, not resorting to the tropes which seem to surround death. She doesn't offer vague platitudes or advice. She simply relates her very personal experience, including the inevitable vulnerability, unexpected moments of being blindsided by memories and sudden tears, etc.

She covers all the bases, including the kind of insanity that can seize one in the throes of grief, those moments when you forget the person is actually dead, when you turn to speak to him or her as you normally would at a certain part of the day or reach for the phone to share the latest news.

The book is raw. If you're looking for religous or spiritual guidance and inspiration, this is not the book for you. As Didion herself noted, writing about the book recently, it was intentionally written "raw". I assume she didn't want to wait, to distance herself from the intensity of the experience as she wrote it down, quite unlike many other books she has written. Raw or not, it wasn't sloppy, overly sentimental or complete despairing.
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418 of 443 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't hate me, but November 14, 2005
Format:Hardcover
I'm not 100% sure why I bought this book. Certainly, the extremely generous reviews were a big push, as much as the fact that I recognize that Joan Didion is a superb writer. Maybe more than that, because I lost my mother and my grandmother within a very short span of time, and they lost their brother/son, then father/husband, in an even briefer time period. For awhile, "Magical Thinking" enthralled me with Didion's honesty and brutal detail. It even gave me nightmares, which I'm sure was not the author's intention, but that's how effective the writing is.

Part of Joan Didion's truthfulness is in dealing with her own avoidance of grief, and the extent to which an extremely intelligent, ever-thinking person will go to escape facing pain. But halfway through this short book, only 105 pages from the end, I almost gave it up, and I'm not sure I'm glad that I didn't. The endless facts, medical explanations, and most of all, Joan's continuous detachment from any emotion, left me feeling beat up and worn down. Yes, it even annoyed me a little. I give her all the credit in the world for approaching her task. Her love for her husband and daughter is extraordinarily apparent by the picture she paints of them, but she still comes through as only an observer. "The Year of Magical Thinking" is written in the first person, but not for a split second do we get a glimpse of any sensitivity coming from her. She only looks, thinks, and writes. But who is Joan, and what is going on inside her? Anything at all??

Buddhists have a valuable outlook on death. They meditate on it regularly, often among the bodies of the departed. Not viewed as morbid or surprising, death informs them how to appreciate life.
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602 of 662 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magical Thinking of Denial October 7, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss. Although conventionaly focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has a physical, cognitive, behavioural, social and philosophical dimensions." Wikipedia

Joan Didion starts her book:
"Life changes fast
Life changes in an instant
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

On December 30, 2003 Joan and her husband, John Gregory Dunne were just sitting down to dinner about 9pm. They had returned from visiting their daughter, Quintana, who was comatose in an ICU in New York City. They were having a conversation as Joan put dinner on the table. She looked up, it was very quiet, John was not responding. He was slumped over the table with his hand raised. She realized all was not well, and in that instant her life changed. An ambulance was called; the trip to the Emergency Department, the meeting with the doctor, massive heart attack mentioned, and she knew her husband was dead. She returned home alone, did a few chores and went to bed and slept soundly. She awakened and realized something was wrong, and her first taste of grief descended.

Joan Didion has written a devastating story of her first year after the death of her husband, and the grief that enveloped her. She writes as she thought, and the story is laid out in detail as it happened and in her own words. She has friends and family but John isn't there. She talked to him every day for the forty years they were married. They talked constantly and were with each other all the time. Even though conventional wisdom has it that absence makes the heart grow fonder. She remembers thinking "there is no one to hear the news, no where to go with the unmade plan, the uncompleted thought. There is no one to agree, disagree, talk back".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Didion triumphs over death
Didion takes a personally painful episode in her life and dissects and expresses her innermost feelings and responses.
Incredible mix of journalism and memoir.
Published 5 hours ago by The Popuplady
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
thanks
Published 3 days ago by Carol Ann Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This was a beautifully written book. Especially poignant for anyone who has lost someone they cared about.
Published 5 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good to read a different point of view
When I suddenly lost my husband, I began to read grief books variously. Good to read a different point of view.
Published 5 days ago by Mary Lee Robinson, author of THE WIDOW OR WIDOWER NEXT DOOR
2.0 out of 5 stars at times kind of boring, and her thoughts seemed kind of scattered
The book was very slow, at times kind of boring, and her thoughts seemed kind of scattered. But her resiliency in face of all her adversities is remarkable.
Published 7 days ago by BellaG
4.0 out of 5 stars It is difficult not to like the writing of this prolific and careful...
It is difficult not to like the writing of this prolific and careful writer, whose prose is so well crafted.
Published 9 days ago by D Hamner
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
This is a good beach read.
Published 16 days ago by Margie Troy
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping
This is a stunning book. Joan Didion's style as it is used here reveals her experience of her husband's death as plainly as any subject she has undertaken.
Published 17 days ago by susan doran
2.0 out of 5 stars I was so disappointed with this book
I was so disappointed with this book. It basically just explains her feelings after her husband died suddenly. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Pu Tai
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read
Thorough and honest if somewhat laborious account of personal grief. Quite relatable experiences following the sudden death of a loved one. Read more
Published 27 days ago by Joyce Mac
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More About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction. Joan Didion's Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.

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Welcome to the The Year of Magical Thinking forum
I would agree with Didion that grief is something that happens, but mourning is willful. After my brother committed suicide at age 32, grief was my state of being. But when I began to actually mourn, I discovered the coupling link to my brother. Four months after his burial, I pounded the cold... Read More
Jan 6, 2006 by Elizabeth DeBarros |  See all 7 posts
Learning to let go of control
Yeah, sometimes it's hard to let go of control and face the reality that a lot of things mean nothing...things can happen for no better purpose at all.
Dec 4, 2006 by Jen |  See all 2 posts
My year of magical thinking
"With time and support, we cope, we accept the inevitable, and we live again."

I'll probably delete or "edit out" this in time, since it really isn't meant as an argument against what you say - not at all ! - but it's understandable that it would be perceived as such.

Right... Read More
Jul 3, 2007 by Kallisto |  See all 2 posts
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