Joan Didion, and her late husband, belong to a different category of writers than what we usually encounter nowadays. It is the professional writer for whom everything revolves around the words. As journalists or novel writers, they are always surrounded by books and stories because they cannot do anything else. The process of writing doesn't have anything to do with spontaneous thinking or improvisation, but relies on serious research on everything written on the topic and hundreds of files of notes. In addition, Didion is also a public intellectual, a proof of the importance assigned to the writer, as a conscience whose opinions shall be listened and shared.
'In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control'. This is what she will do following the sudden death of her husband after 40 years of marriage, while her daughter was in coma. The Year of Magical Thinking is the account of the terrible times she went through then, a memoir recording carefully the feelings and events in the aftermath of the tragedy. First and foremost, she is trying to understand what happened, with the help of books and medical reports or psychology studies, but also, on long term, to reconstruct the moment of their relationship, dissecting and looking for meaning in events from the past weeks and months. There is the grieving phase followed by the mourning stage, and the question if he ever had the prescience of his death. And shortly after he died, there is also the strange feeling that maybe he will come back, the refuse to acknowledge that her husband will not come back. Never.
It is the kind of book one needs to read after a tragedy, not because it would solve the questions about life and death, but because it shares a human experience of trying to understand through words an occurence hard to explain with words. Every experience is unique because every human being is unique, but what connects each other is the power to share and describe, write and talk about what is happening. Although it doesn't alleviate the suffering, at least it can make the moments meaningful, and in moments of doubt and emotional turmoil, this can be more than enough.
Rating: 4 stars