Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grief and Indulgence

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Didion wrote this book after her husband's death, and uses it to detail her first year of coping with her loss and her grief.  I haven't lost anyone that's been particularly close to me, but I liked the book.  She repeats certain comments throughout the book to demonstrate the impact it had, and how her thoughts just keep going back to the same thing over and over again.  She also describes the need to avoid certain places or memories because if she isn't careful, they will lead to other thoughts.  In addition to losing her husband, Didion's daughter was suffering from illness and was in and out of the hospital in first few months of this year.  As a result, she doesn't even begin mourning until much later because she didn't have enough time to deal with her shock and her grief.


She also talks about the idea of indulgence and self-pity, "the most common and the most universally reviled of our character defects" (192), and how it is looked down on, and yet very necessary.  As she says, "only survivors of death are truly left alone" (192).  As part of this, she also mentions the idea of dwelling, and how there is this fear of dwelling on things, or being called out on it.  I admit I have a tendency to dwell on things, so I don't even want to know how I'll deal with death.  Honestly, is it bad that some of the things she described I could relate to on a minor scale as part of a break up?  Such as when she talks about the fact that she used to just randomly tell her husband things as they came up and now she can't - similar things happen during break ups, divorces etc.  Except, of course, in the case of a break up, you can still tell the person things; you just don't get the same reaction anymore.


Of course, now I'm being self-indulgent - but then again, that's part of the point of reading - you can get different things out of a book based on when you read it.  Or if it's personal like this one, you can try and relate it to your own experiences even if the situations aren't completely equivalent.  Didion actually describes rereading many of her husband's novels, and in retrospect, they all seemed darker.  Did her mood make them darker or had she missed certain things in her earlier readings?


In addition to discussing her relationship with her husband, she discusses their work and the influence they had on each other.  There were one or two of her novels in particular that I'm kind of interested in now.  If it weren't for the fact that as two writers, their work was going to play an important part of their relationship, it would almost look like self-promotion (I'm kidding).

1 comment:

Elaine Williams said...

This sounds like an interesting read and I'll seek it out. Thanks. elaine