Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Oh, Joan Didion. I just love you.

Is there really more I can say?

Okay, okay. I'll say more. But only because you really twisted my arm.

I'm grouping these two memoirs together because they're similar in style and content and I read them at almost the same time, so I don't have much different to say about each one. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir about her husband's death, and her subsequent attempt to understand that experience. Blue Nights is about her daughter's death, which occurred not long after her husband's.

I did find Blue Nights a little more chaotic--in a good way. It seems like Didion really let herself go in that one and just explored everything she wanted to explore--not just her daughter's death, but her own experience aging, her experience with the success of The Year of Magical Thinking, and just her life--without apology.

Joan Didion has mastered the ability to write incredibly deeply without being dense. She doesn't ask us to come too far from what we know, or to stretch our minds too much. She doesn't lose us by trying to be poetic. Yet she follows her subject matter into real depth, and her writing style is magnificent. Her books have a place in the classroom, but they also make good rainy-day reading. She just tells it like it is without trying to explain it or make up for it. She's brave enough to ask questions she doesn't know the answers to. And I couldn't help but see myself in her--despite the fact that she's much older than me and has had many more years of much more difficult experience.

One thing I often have trouble with when I read work from older authors is the felt implication, "I've lived through a lot, I've been through it all, I know a heck of a lot more than you youngsters, so shut up and listen to me." Not that elderly, experienced writers don't have the right to imply that sort of thing, but it does make it a little hard to relate.

But Joan Didion still feels so human. She doesn't pretend to have all the answers. At the same time, though, she commands respect. In Blue Nights, she shows us how difficult it is to have others worry about her, others who don't seem to understand that she is an adult and she gets to make her own choices. She doesn't condemn them--in fact, she really doesn't make any judgment of whether they're right or wrong--but she shows us.

I don't want it to seem like I've started a Joan Didion cult or anything, but I think of her as one of those authors whose writing is exactly my cup of tea. She always gets it just right for me.


  1. My mother-in-law read The Year Of Magical Thinking after her husband died, and she loved it. I never read it, but maybe I should!

  2. Hmmm. Just the title (plus your description) sounds delicious. Maybe a To-Read for me.