In the documentary The September Issue, the generally intimidating and inscrutable Anna Wintour is shown interacting with her high school- or college-aged daughter. The scene is only a few seconds long, but it shows a very human Wintour, just being a mom trying to be cool in front of her daughter. Sometimes we forget that icons are people. I kept thinking about that scene when reading Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to reading this book, Joan Didion was more of a literary giant or icon to me than a person. I hadn’t read any of works, but knew of her reputation and knew that the ultracool Kim Gordon was very honored to have her writing compared to Didion’s.
While this was my first Didion book, it will not be my last. Her writing reminded me of that of poet Robert Pinsky, another master of a phrase. Didion can turn normal life into literature, which is certainly some kind of magic.
The Year of Magical Thinking is about the bizarre period in Didion’s life in which her daughter fell into a coma and then her husband of forty years died of a heart attack. How does a human cope with one of those events, let alone both of them at the same time?
Didion examines her own, dreamlike grief and morning. She fixates on bizarre things, she goes through a frequent vortex in which seemingly unrelated things remind her of her husband and daughter.
I don’t know who I would recommend this book to, or when. Humans, I guess, as a memento mori, so that we appreciate life and the people we love. “I had not sufficiently appreciated it, a persistent theme by that state of whatever I was going through.”
While I was reading this book, I was also reading Ginsberg’s Mind Breaths. A relevant portion to compliment Didion:
Will that happen to me?
Of course, it’ll happen to thee.
Will my arms whither away?
Yes yr arm hair will turn grey.
Will my knees grow weak & collapse?
Your knees will need crutches perhaps.
Will my chest get thin?
Your breasts will be hanging skin.
Where will go – my teeth?
You’ll keep the ones beneath.
What’ll happen to my bones?
They’ll get mixed up with stones.