Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

I do not remember why this book ended up on my to-read list, or why I bought it, but I am so glad I did. "The Year of Magical Thinking" was such a good book. Disclaimer: it is not a happy book. The author, Joan Didion, abruptly lost her husband in January of 2004; this book tells the story of her grieving process. It gives you a glimpse into what it is like to be a widow - especially when it happens so suddenly.

My grandfather passed away very abruptly in February of this past year so reading this gave me a better idea of what my grandma has gone and continues to go through. I, of course, have never lost a spouse, but I was still able to relate to the author. I've lost grandparents so know what it is like to grieve for someone. There are still days where I ask myself if my Grandpa is really gone. Similar to the husband of the author, my grandfather died pretty suddenly from cardiac complications. The author was there when her husband passed away - as were my grandma, mom, and dad. The author replays those final moments - over and over and over. How terrible.

Here are a couple passages that struck me:

"... I would be fine alone. And I was. Until the morning. When, only half awake, I tried to think why I was alone in bed. There was a leaden feeling. It was the same leaden feeling with which I woke on mornings after John and I had fought. Had we had a fight? What about, how had it started, how could we fix it if I could not remember how it started? (p. 31)

"I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.

I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name on the trust account.

Let go of them in the water (p.225-6)."

This isn't a book that I would widely recommend because it is such a heavy subject. If you have any interest in the grieving process, I highly recommend. Didion did an amazing job of baring her soul and showing what it was like to live through that first year without her husband.

I'm going to close with a stanza of a poem that Didion includes in her book:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
~ W.H.Auden

I had a really vivid dream about my grandpa on Friday night - it was so wonderful to see him and hear his voice, but it was weird because in the dream I knew he was not alive so I couldn't stop crying. Do you ever dream about loved ones you have lost?


Anais said...

That sounds like such a nice dream :) I haven't dreamt about my grand-mother but once when I was running I randomly smelled her perfume and it instantly brought back memories. It was weird too because there was noone around...

I had something else to say... but forgot. How typical lol!

Abby said...

That is so interesting you say that. I had a dream about Grandpa like 2 weeks ago. It was extremely realistic!! Except in my dream he had come to a family holiday and knew he had passed away and was talking about "life after death". It was really weird.

I was really bummed to wake up, and wished the dream would have lasted longer! Seeing him in my dream definitely made me miss him.

Mandy said...

I am going to have to add this book to my que in Good Reads. I think that the person that I've lost closest to me is a former teacher/mentor/friend. I don't really dream about her, but sometimes I just feel the need to go visit the cemetery.

Amber said...

Aww that sounds like a very sad and insightful book. Luckily, I haven't lost anybody who was very close to me.

Marlys said...

Lisa, I continue to sense how Grandma is grieving and know she is in such pain. I don't think I can comprehend exactly how she feels as I have not lost a spouse or a child, and my parents were both so sick that their passing was a blessing in some ways. It would be good to read this book so I can understand better what she is going through. Maybe I could borrow it when I see you on Friday?

Anonymous said...

I have had numerous dreams about my grandfather (Poppy) who passed away in 1998. I love it when I dream of him because it's so real and vivid, and it's like I have a few more moments with him. He often appears to me in my dreams with my childhood dog who followed Poppy around when he visited us. I've talked to him, hugged him, interacted with him and he's even talked to my Gram (who is still with us) as well. I always wake up a tad sad but also really glad that he visits me in my dreams.

I've had similar things with my dad's mom who also passed away in 1998.

I've heard great things about this book as well but I don't think I could handle it!

Anonymous said...

Hey Lisa,

Thanks for the heads up about this book; I may have to read it.

I used to dream of my mother, my real mother. It's weird because in my dreams, I know it's her because of how she looks, how she talks, how she laughs, what kind of perfume she's wearing... and none of those things are things I can possibly remember about her. When I was little (and had a bad day), I would pray at night that God would let me dream of her so I would feel better.

Becky said...

Thanks for this recommendation. It definitely sounds like a heavy book, and only having been married for a couple of years I'm not sure I could handle it, but I think I'm going to add it to my "to-read" list anyway. Sometimes I make myself think about what I would do if something happened to my husband (morbid, I know), but I feel like this would be a good thing to read in case anything did happen - to see the journey she goes through, knowing that it is survivable, ya know?

aimee said...

those quotes are amazing. i think i have to read this book. my uncle died suddenly 2 weeks ago and after the funeral my aunt was talking about how it's going to be so weird to wake up the next day without him there. she said she was doing alright at that moment because everyone was there and there was so much going on but once everyone left, she'd be alone. it broke my heart to hear her say that because i can't even imagine what that feels like.

i have dreams about my grandma every once in awhile. we were very close and she passed away almost 3 years ago. the dreams are so realistic and it always comes at a time where i really need some guidance in my life. she was that guidance for me when she was alive and i think she still is even though she's not physically here anymore. the dreams are bittersweet to me because i feel like i get to "see" her and "talk" to her and i'm so happy about that but then i get sad because i miss her so much and i wish i could always see her and talk to her!

Little Fish said...

I don't remember my dreams (I never have), but I think about people I've lost all the time especially my Grandpa. Next month he will have been gone three years, but I am constantly thinking, "I wish I could talk to my Grandpa about that." He was a political junkie a life long democrat so last years election time was filled with moments of thinking of him.

Ashley Gerner said...

I'm definitely reading this book! Like you said, I too have never lost a spouse, but have had loved ones experience such terrible losses in recent years and it would be nice to gain a little insight and perspective into what they have gone through.
Another book I would recommend along these lines would be "When Bad Things Happen To Good People" it was written by a Rabi who found out his son had a disease that would inevitably take his life (or something along those lines) and the thing i like about it (from the very little i've read) is that he doesn't claim to have all the answers, or try to explain why these things happen, but more about what a person of faith goes through in times like these. My boss told me about it, she lost her daughter when she was 12 to a brain tumor, and said it was the best thing she read during that very difficult time. So that's also on my list to read.
Ok, long post...hope your Tuesday is Fabulous!!! :)

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I am still upset about my grandma's death this summer and Iam shocked because I really thought I'd feel nothing but regret when either her or my grandpa died because of the role they had in my life. However, I didn't realize how often I called her. It really hits me in the car when I am driving somewhere and I used to use it as a time to call her and check up. Now my grandpa is days/weeks/months from passing and I am also sad. Sad because he is dying without ever giving a damn about u and sad because I still sadly don't care.

Oh said...

I have avoided this book. Perhaps I shouldn't. She's such an excellent writer. Thanks for this wonderful review.