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The Year of Magical Thinking | [Joan Didion]

The Year of Magical Thinking

"Life changes fast....You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." These were among the first words Joan Didion wrote in January 2004. Her daughter was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit, a victim of pneumonia and septic shock. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was dead. The night before New Year's Eve, while they were sitting down to dinner, he suffered a massive and fatal coronary. The two had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years.
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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2005

"Life changes fast....You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." These were among the first words Joan Didion wrote in January 2004. Her daughter was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit, a victim of pneumonia and septic shock. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was dead. The night before New Year's Eve, while they were sitting down to dinner, he suffered a massive and fatal coronary. The two had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years.

The weeks and months that followed "cut loose any fixed idea I had about death, about illness, about probability and luck...about marriage and children and memory...about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores with electric honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. Her portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.

Listen to Joan Didion's full-hour interview with Charlie Rose.

©2005 Joan Didion; (P)2005 HighBridge Company

What the Critics Say

  • 2005 Audie Award Nominee, Biography/Memoir
  • National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee, Autobiography, 2005

"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....This is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature." (Publishers Weekly)
"The Year of Magical Thinking is not a downer. On the contrary. Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (1288 )
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3.9 (420 )
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3 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Debra Albuquerque, NM, USA 03-29-07
    Debra Albuquerque, NM, USA 03-29-07 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Puzzle of Grief"

    This book is a tremendous effort to express the complicated grief process that one person went through after the sudden death of their spouse. It is touching, sometimes distressing, and sometimes confusing, much like the grief process itself.

    I felt compelled to write a review since so many reviews here seem to criticism Ms. Didion for not grieving in the correct way or not expressing her grief in the right way. This is a memoir. It is about her life and her experienes. It doesn't follow any rules and I believe that is the point. She is letting you experience her grief experience. She's not talking about everyone's grief experience or how you should grieve.

    Overall it was a very interesting and insightful read. If you don't enjoy memiors, however, you might not enjoy the style. But this is an excellent book.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    william c thill 12-21-05 Member Since 2013
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    "A beautiful work, beautifully read."

    Simply, a brilliantly clear, wrenching account. Deeply moving, never sentimental or manipulative, Didion uses exact descriptions, exact language to tell her story. Not a word is out of place. It's also one of the best read books. The narrator is fantastic.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 05-14-13
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 05-14-13 Member Since 2009

    Addicted to audiobooks & podcasts. 5 Stars=I Loved It, 4 Stars=Enjoyed it Thoroughly, 3=Kinda Good, 2=Bad/Boring, 1=Complete Waste of Credit

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    "Ugh..."

    I made it through 4 hours of this one before pulling out my earbuds in exasperation. I couldn't take the high-society cerebral musings and endless quoting of other writers and artists. I waited for something semi-interesting to happen but it never did and the narration wasn't enough to carry it alone. Don't waste a credit on this dud.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emeritus madison, wi USA 04-15-07
    Emeritus madison, wi USA 04-15-07 Member Since 2003

    bookdoc

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    "A new way to"

    I have always like the tight, terse and outsider view that Didion has brought to everything she rights about and worried about how this would work out. Nothing to worry about since the narration is wonderful and Didion's words, emotions and bittersweet experiences are tenderly and accurately reflected. It is amazing to "read" and better to savor. Wish I had a "rewind" button.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Reid San Francisco, CA 04-07-07
    M. Reid San Francisco, CA 04-07-07 Listener Since 2005

    MReid

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Can you give negative stars?"

    It's interesting to read the reviews of this book because they are so polarized. Obviously, you either love this book or you really deplore it. I am one who deplored it. I could not even finish listening to it. And being an intensely frugal person, I TRIED to listen to it so as not to waste my money--but the yawn factor outweighed the waste factor exponentially.

    I have lost people I loved and have gone through the grieving process--but I still couldn't relate to this book. Expounding every minute detail that transpired after a loss isn't scintillating reading material. It's belly-button-lint-picking--and that's not worth my time or my money.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mebythesea Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada 12-12-11
    Mebythesea Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada 12-12-11 Member Since 2008

    Tell us about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Liked it...didn't love it"
    What did you love best about The Year of Magical Thinking?

    I guess I liked the fact that Ms. Didion wished to share her deep love of her husband in such a touching way. I felt for her pain but at the same time I just wasn't moved. I feel bad about that because she suffered through not only the loss of her husband, but the illness of her beloved daughter. I just feel there was too much repetition....


    Would you recommend The Year of Magical Thinking to your friends? Why or why not?

    I suppose I would recommend this book to friends. I'm not sure if it would be one of my top ten listens to recommend though....I just can't put my finger on why....I'll be wondering if other readers feel the same sense of not caring for this book or if it's just me.


    What three words best describe Barbara Caruso’s performance?

    Convincing, compassionate and enjoyable.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    There were many moments that moved me....not to tears, but moved me to hoping that this would be over, and soon.


    Any additional comments?

    I thought I would love this book. I just didn't. It's not that it wasn't believable. I was very believable. I just wanted it to end. I don't experience that often with my Audible listens. This time I did.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah R 06-19-07
    Sarah R 06-19-07 Member Since 2006

    Sarah R

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What it is not"

    I deeply admire Joan Didion, but I don't quite understand how this book garnered as much attention and praise as it did. It is a memoir about how she survived the tragic death of her husband and the devastating illness (and later death) of her daughter. She survived it, it seems, by writing this diary - by writing her way into and out of it. Particularly lovely is her tribute to her late husband, her description of their life together and her life without him. She does well at capturing some of the moments of disorientation and loneliness that came with all of this. It is not, however, her most literary nor her most intelligent of works; alternatively, it is not a guide to grieving or recovering from loss.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Corrales, NM, United States 06-08-06
    Mark Corrales, NM, United States 06-08-06 Member Since 2003
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    "rich lady mourning"

    Not especially interesting or compelling. Actually rather boring for the most part. I don't really get why this book was on so many top 10 books of the year lists. Maybe there is something I am missing, because I couldn't relate to her issues at all. Lots of sad tales about her going back & forth from the hospital to the Beverly Willshire Hotel (boo hoo). Also she is so surprised her husband drops dead of a cardiac arrest after he has heart disease for 20 years and has a pacemaker in. Don't mean to be callous, but didn't you see this coming? Even the husband said he knew how he was going to die (heart attack).

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberley Woodbridge, NJ, United States 04-24-06
    Kimberley Woodbridge, NJ, United States 04-24-06 Member Since 2004
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    "Made me cry"

    This book is a first person account of the grieving process of one woman, including the (she feels) unaccountable lapses in her ability to trust her own mind, and a gradual return to a more steady and "normal" state of mind.

    There is no epiphany, where the author realizes that her life can begin anew, just a return to normalcy and sanity. We are with her every step of the way.

    A novellist might have made the ending more dramatic, some great rebirth, but this story is more true in that life goes on; sadder and richer for the loss, but able to contain joy again and with an ability not to mark every day by what happened before the awful event.

    Some have said that her wealth is distracting, well, her daily life was full of exactly what she wrote. I think it would have been disingenuous to fill the book with details from a less wealthy life or to leave out the details. She wrote what she did, what she saw, what she felt and how she struggled to be in control of the uncontrollable processes of life and death.

    This book made me cry.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alex Indianapolis, IN, USA 04-17-06
    Alex Indianapolis, IN, USA 04-17-06
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    "Poor."

    This book is a poor excuse for a memoir. The story is too fragmented to follow while I drive on the highway in the car. Don't even bother listening to this in the City. There is too much scatter brained thinking in this one, and any of the intresting parts get trumped by her in-ability to stay to any point for more than 2 minutes.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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