The Year of Magical Thinking

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The Year of Magical Thinking
TheYearOfMagicalThinking.jpg
First edition cover
Author Joan Didion
Country United States
Language English
Genre Memoir
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Media type Print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 240
ISBN ISBN 1-4000-4314-X
OCLC 58563131
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 B 22
LC Class PS3554.I33 Z63 2005

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), by Joan Didion (b. 1934), is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003). Published by Knopf in October 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. It won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award[2] and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography.[3]

Structure and themes[edit]

The book recounts Didion's experiences of grief after Dunne's 2003 death of a cardiac arrest in their New York apartment. Days before his death, their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne Michael was hospitalized in New York with pneumonia which developed into septic shock; she was still unconscious when her father died. During 2004 Quintana was again hospitalized after a collapse and bleeding in her brain.

The narrative structure of the book follows Didion's re-living and re-analysis of her husband's death throughout the year following it, in addition to caring for Quintana. With each replay of the event, the focus on certain emotional and physical aspects of the experience shifts. Didion also incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness into the book.

The title of the book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away Dunne's shoes, as he would need them when he returned.[4] The experience of insanity or derangement that is part of grief is a major theme, about which Didion was unable to find a great deal of existing literature.[5]

Didion applies the iconic reportorial detachment for which she is known to her own experience of grieving; there are few expressions of raw emotion. Through observation and analysis of changes in her own behavior and abilities, she indirectly expresses the toll her grief is taking. She is haunted by questions concerning the medical details of her husband's death, the possibility that he sensed it in advance, and how she might have made his remaining time more meaningful. Fleeting memories of events and persistent snippets of past conversations with John take on a new significance. Her daughter's continuing health problems and hospitalizations further compound and interrupt the natural course of grief.

Writing process[edit]

Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking between October 4, 2004, and December 31 the same year, completing it a year and a day after Dunne died.[6] Notes she made during Quintana's hospitalizations became part of the book.[7] Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died of pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, before the publication of the book, but Didion told the press that she would not revise the manuscript.[8] Instead she devoted a second book, Blue Nights, to her daughter's death.[9]

The play[edit]

On March 29, 2007, Didion's adaptation of her book for Broadway, directed by David Hare, opened with Vanessa Redgrave as the sole cast member. The play expands upon the memoir by dealing with Quintana's death. Redgrave reprised her role to largely positive reviews at London's National Theatre. This production is set to tour the world, dates already announced include Salzburg, Bath and Cheltenham.[10] The play was also performed in the Sydney Theatre Company's 2008 season, starring Robyn Nevin and directed by Cate Blanchett.[11] The play was performed In Canada at the Belfry Theatre (2009) and at the Tarragon Theatre by Seana McKenna.[12] This production was also mounted in January 2011 as part of English Theatre's season at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. In January, 2010, the play was mounted at the Court Theater in Chicago, starring Mary Beth Fisher. Fisher won the 2010 "Jeff" (Joseph Jefferson equity) Solo Performance Award for her performance. The play was mounted in April 2011 by Nimbus Theater in Minneapolis, MN, starring Barbra Berlovitz and directed by Liz Neerland.[13][14] In 2011, Fanny Ardant played a French translation of The Year of Magical Thinking in Théâtre de l'Atelier, Paris.

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 2005". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20. (With acceptance speech.)
  2. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". National Book Critics Circle. Archived from the original on 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  3. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  4. ^ Feeney, Mark (2005-10-26). "Amid unbearable sorrow, she shows her might". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  5. ^ Van Meter, Jonathan (2005-10-02). "When Everything Changes". New York Books. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  6. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (2006-08-20). "The years of writing magically". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  7. ^ Brockes, Emma (2005-12-16). "Q: How were you able to keep writing after the death of your husband? A: There was nothing else to do. I had to write my way out of it". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  8. ^ McKinley, Jesse (2005-08-29). "Joan Didion's New Book Faces Tragedy". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-09. 
  9. ^ Joan Didion Mourns Her Daughter's Death. New York Times, 2011-11-06, page found 2012-01-27.
  10. ^ Robertson, Campbell (2006-05-26). "Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Didion, Working on a Merger". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  11. ^ Hallett, Bryce (2007-09-08). "Theatre's dream team keeps Nevin in the act". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  12. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pQhCi85Oew Video excerpt of Tarragon Theatre production of The Year of Magical Thinking
  13. ^ http://www.nimbustheatre.com/discover/production.php?productionID=34 Show description at www.nimbustheatre.com - Retrieved 2011-05-04
  14. ^ Royce, Graydon (2011-05-02). "A writer sifts the details of loss". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2011-05-04. 

On October 26, 2009, Vanessa Redgrave reprises her role at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in NYC.

External links[edit]