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The Year of Magical Thinking

It was so gloomy the other day that I spent most of the afternoon in bed, reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf, 2005). It is always satisfying to read a good book in one go. But this book has a quality that I don't think I'd have noticed if I read it sporadically. That is its vulnerability. How can a book be vulnerable? Well, it can be incomplete. From our window, I see where Beth Israel North Hospital used to stand; it has been demolished, and will be replaced by an apartment block that will block part of our view of the horizon. Ms Didion's daughter, Quintana Roo, who was hospitalized there for the better part of a month, almost two years ago, died this summer, while her mother's book hung between galleys and publication. The book, in short, does not tell you the whole story.

No book tells the whole story. What writers do, though, is to create a plausible narrative and say, "That's the whole story." Ms Didion doesn't begin to make this pretence in her new book, which is a record of grief deferred at the same time that it is an act of mourning. It is not told in any obvious order, although I'm sure that it will be taken apart and shown to be quite ingeniously constructed. Any capsule summary is bound to be off-putting; just yesterday, a friend wrote to say that she wasn't inclined to read this book simply because of its doleful subject matter. Why, given everything else that you've got to deal with, would you voluntarily read an account of loss as deep as this?

It's my job, I suppose, to tell you. And not to waste your time attesting to the book's "monumental importance." It's much too soon to guess how "important" The Year of Magical Thinking is going to prove to be. And you already knew that death and mourning are important subjects. That in itself is perhaps a turn-off. Nor can I say...

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nice, cozy place you got here :)..

I am a kottke.org micropatron

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