Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I've Got A Crush On: Joan Didion

I had a slim novel of hers on my shelf for years, something I had picked up because I had marked her as a writer I needed to read. I would leaf through the pages, the sparse writing, finding a dryness that I could not understand or embrace. I love writing enough to know that what a person cannot understand or love about a piece of work can, later- sometimes much later- turn into the very things that we value most, so the novel stayed in its place.

Years later,  I read The Year of Magical Thinking. This is Mrs. Didion's horrifying- it is, to me- true life story of the death first her beloved best friend, writing partner and husband of a million years to a heart attack, followed by the sepsis induced, months long hospital ordeal death of her 39 year old daughter Quintanna Roo. In short and merciless order she loses her entire family. The Year of Magical Thinking is written from two exceedingly important points of view not typically brought together for the creation of a book: that of an experienced and deeply talented writer, and that of the in complete flux mind of a person in the trenches of shock and grief.  The fact that Mrs. Didion wrote this memoir in bits and pieces and then later, as a whole, during the worst of her grief is important to the final story.  The words and sentences on the page are transmitting from the jaws of the dog straight to our reading experience, letting us in on the repetition, delusions, warps of time, denial and teetering horror that is a person in the grips of shock and severe grief. These merge together into a piece of experience expressed so finely, so cleanly and dispassionately, that I was at once completely fascinated and totally in awe.

Of course I went back and read Mrs. Didion's novel on my shelf, and have sense read much more by her. She now has a work out chronicling her daughter's life and loss, written up here in the New York Times. I plan on reading as soon as possible, and look forward to more work from Mrs. Didion. Her life has been fascinating, including a long, loving and productive marriage to the writer John Dunne, screenplays written and movies made, travel, relationships with fascinating writers, actors, politicians, political reporting- Mrs. Didion has lived large.  I hope she is finding some safe place in this world without them.



Melanie said...

Just today my copy of The Year of Magical Thinking was returned to me. I pet the cover as if it could know I missed those words on my shelf.

Mel said...

Maggie, I encountered the magic of Joan Didion in the late 70's when I was assigned Slouching Toward Bethlehem in an English class. Her writing was a revelation. I found Magical Thinking devastating and so brutally honest. I can't imagine her heartache. I too look forward to reading her next book, even though I know it will be heartbreaking as well.
Lovely post and happy reading.
Mel

Elisabeth said...

I share your crush, Maggie. Joan Didion is one of the world's great writers and her Year of Magical Thinking is a tribute to grief and the grieving process. It's exquisite.

Thanks for the link. I'll read it now.

Elizabeth said...

Yes. I've long been an avid reader of Didion. Her essays on California capture, to me, perfectly the essence of the state and its people. I love her extraordinary intellectual-ness -- and find refreshing that certain literary elitism that she -- and her husband -- carried. I keep picking up the novel about Quintana and just can't do it right now. I just can't.

Ms. Moon said...

I loved the Year of Magical Thinking. Not loved as in...fun! but loved as in...truth and deep, deep sorrow.
I am not even sure I have the heart to read this new one. How can anyone survive so much loss?
But I will read it. I will.

Hyacinth said...

I just read the article and added "Blue Nights" to my wish list :) Thanks for the heads up!

PatienceisaVirtue said...

ohymygawd we're soulmates...I just started reading "Magical Thinking" yesterday....

Marion said...

I've read and cherish each and every one of her books beginning with "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". She's an amazing writer and person and oh, the heartbreaking tragedy she's experienced! I'm on a waiting list at the library to get her latest, "Blue Nights" about the loss of her beloved only child. She's an awesome woman. xo

Darcy said...

i also loved this book. I read a book of hers in college (which was prolly appropriate time to read it as it was one of her books written when she was younger) called 'play it as it lays' and found her so mystifying, something always drawing me in, but yet felt I couldn't quite understand. But it is kind of like some of faulkner's stuff: it felt so dang smart and dreamy that I never cared if I didn't understand ;-)! Years later, I read this book you speak of and felt here genius in my bones (and understanding it, I felt). I love seeing that book on my shelf. What a way to navigate through that pain.

yolanda said...

no idea... i´ll do research....
what i am rereading now is Colette´s books of Claudine....
love you posted this!
xoxoxoxo

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