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The Year of Magical Thinking

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The Year of Magical Thinking confronts us with a subject that is too often ignored and evaded because it is too heavy and brutal to think about----death and bereavement. Joan Didion is most valiant as she accounts faithfully how she, as a traveller in the territory of loss, inches her way through the thorns of magical thinking, emerges from the vortex of past memories, and ultimately climbs over the cliff of grief to "feel the swell change, go with the change" (227).

With utter candidness, Joan Didion lays bare to readers her vulnerability after the death of her husband and the simultaneous grave illness of their daughter. Logical mind has been the trademarks of the author in her previous books, but in this one, she abandons herself to diverge from the track of sanity and go astrayed into the forest of denial and illusion. There, she catches herself undisposed to donate John's garments, because he will need them when he returns; she insists an autopsy likewise, wishfully hoping that if the cause of death is determined, the tragedy can be averted.

When we are reading those fantasies, a subtle tinge of empathy is fostered between us and Didion. The spiritual bond is achieved thanks to the deadpan writing style Didion employs in The Year of Magical Thinking. She tends to pare the sentences down, trimming away all the unnecessaries, reserving only very few adjectives, which makes the flow of narration plain but precise, ruthless but forcible. For instance, when a theologian at the funeral put forward the topic of "ritual itself being a form of faith" (43), the author can't help question the God. She writes, "But I did it all. I did it all. I did St. Jone the Divine, I did the chant in Latin, I did the Catholic priest and the episcopal priest. And it still didn't bring him back." (43) Instead of using modifiers to describe her emotions, Didion simply demonstrates them via the rhythmic repetition of "I did", as if she is whispering and murmuring the words to herself. The modifier-free language actually sounds more real and intense as it corresponds with Didion's inner numbness, the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning. The omission of ornamentation in writing leaves room for the sediments of deep sorrow to accumulate, allowing us to hear the true thoughts of the author.



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