Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking

After purchasing some books from Skylight on Vermont (nice little bookstore if you live in Hollywood/Los Feliz), I decided to read neither and instead borrowed The Year of Magical Thinking because I've never read any Didion and the book's popularity has sufficiently waned that two copies were lounging on the shelf at the Studio City Library.

There's nothing particularly stunning about this book, except the circumstances. The writing isn't particularly great: she repeats, as if a chant or a prayer, quotes from classic literature and catch phrases her family uses and transformative moments in every chapter to reiterate that Death does what it wants and did not take in time to ask her what she thought about losing her husband and nearly losing her daughter at the same time. But here is an enormously successful woman, writing about grief and mourning, but also about her success and how it isn't enough. How nothing is enough when you lose the love of your life. No, I can't imagine anyone in their 20s liking this book. It's maudlin, and while I feel for her and believe what she says is right, I honestly can't help but be a bit irritated. She had so much, and now this book about the loss, has elevated her star even higher. It seems wrong somehow.

Of course, she isn't whining or moaning or implying that no one has ever lost the love of their life before (though his death is, in its suddenness, would be a blessing and be less tragic if her daughter weren't having serious and strange health problems at the same time), so in part my problems with the book are MY problems. For instance: what disturbs me most is that the ways in which Didion defines herself as "crazy" during the year after her husband's death is, in no small part, how I act on a daily basis. Having lost no one. Losing one's sense of self as you walk down the street, generalized anxiety, the inability to have fun and function well at parties or large functions. I think this is not craziness, but an inability to be alone well combined with a compulsion to remove oneself hastily from crowds of strangers.

In any event I'm satisfied I didn't purchase the book, and I'm sure I'll come back to it in fifty (or sixty or seventy) years when the love of my life drops dead in the middle of dinner, but now, for this reader at this stage of life, it's not the right book.

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In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen