The Year of Magical Thinking

  • by Joan Didion
  • Narrated by Barbara Caruso
  • 5 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2005
"Life changes fast....You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." These were among the first words Joan Didion wrote in January 2004. Her daughter was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit, a victim of pneumonia and septic shock. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was dead. The night before New Year's Eve, while they were sitting down to dinner, he suffered a massive and fatal coronary. The two had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years.The weeks and months that followed "cut loose any fixed idea I had about death, about illness, about probability and luck...about marriage and children and memory...about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores with electric honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. Her portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.

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What the Critics Say



2005 Audie Award Nominee, Biography/Memoir
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee, Autobiography, 2005
"Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays....This is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature." (Publishers Weekly)
"The Year of Magical Thinking is not a downer. On the contrary. Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative." (The New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great book to Read, but I didn’t like it

I am very glad I read this book, and would recommend it to any adult, but I didn’t like it. It is about grief and loss and a very bad year. Modern American culture does not openly discuss grieving very well, and this is a rare well written book that carefully regards grief. The author packs in a lot of truth about the grieving process that everyone should know, before they have to go through it themselves. It is my opinion every young adult should read this (and A Grief Observed and Being Dead) just to get them ready for what it grief will be like. Grief is an important part of life, and should be prepared for. This is mostly beautifully written, and completely beautifully narrated. I laughed out loud several times, and became slightly verklempt a few times, but didn’t cry.

Usually when I finish a book, I immediately start a new book. Every now and then I finish a book and I feel a need for some time to process it. This was one of those books.

The author did a very good job describing the myriad of feelings and behaviors associated with grief. Yet, I did not agree with what the author presumed about grief and what she felt to do about grief. The author says near the end of the book “there comes a point at which you must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.” This is said at the end of the author’s first year of dealing with grief, so is understandable (yet is still, I think, a misunderstanding). I believe you should never let them go, you should keep them, and keep them alive AND keep them dead, both, always. I hope the author learns this part over time. I think she will.

The author describes the conditions of grief but does not seem to give grief the respect it deserves, and sometimes even seems to consider grief may be a treatable derangement or pathological condition. I do not. I feel normal grief is a natural process in which the brain systematically revisits the all the memories and plans related to the loss, adjusting them for the loss. Grief is hard and important work for the brain, which takes time, and enormous subconscious effort. The external signs of grief can look like depression, and depression can sometimes coexist with grief, but these are two quite different conditions.

The narration is really excellent. Completely clear and enjoyable, with wonderful expressiveness of the numbness, desperation, nonbelief, fears, and humor associated with grieving.
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- Michael

Sharp, sometimes funny, but always clear & precise

In four days it will be one year since my father-in-law died in an accidental shooting. He had recently turned 60 and recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary. In 18 days it will be four years since my older brother died suddenly in a black hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to land.

I had two father-figures in my life. I also had two brothers. I lost one of each pair suddenly - dramatically. I've watched my wife struggle with the loss of her father. I've watched my mother-in-law struggle with the sad death and absence of her husband. I've watched my sister-in-law and her kids struggle with the death of their husband and father. I've watched my parents, my siblings. I have grieved much myself for these two good men.

I was reading when they died. I know this. When my father-in-law died I was reading 'Falconer'. When my brother died I was reading 'This Is Water'. After their deaths I couldn't read for weeks, and struggled with reading for months. I was in prison. I was drowning in a water I could neither see nor understand.

Reading Didion's sharp, sometimes funny, but always clear and precise take on her husband's death and her daughter's illness ... my experience is reflected. Not exactly. I'm no Joan Didion and my relationship with both my father-in-law and my brother are mine. However, Didion captures in the net of her prose the essence of grief, tragedy, loss, coping, remembering. He memoir makes me wonder how it is even possible that someone could both feel a semblance of what I feel and capture all the sad glitters, glints and mudgyness of mourning at the same time. It takes a helluva writer.
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- Darwin8u

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-30-2005
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books