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The Year of Magical Thinking documents
Didion’s experience of grief after losing her husband John, but
it also serves as a memorial to the intensity of the relationship
they shared throughout their forty-year marriage. While the book
is shaped by Didion’s perspective, John’s personality comes across
more strongly than anyone else’s, making him the most fully realized
character in the book—even more so than Didion herself. Didion can
suppress neither her enthusiastic affection for John nor her utter
devastation at his loss. She draws a vivid picture of John through
stories from their life together, her commentary on his behavior,
and even snatches of his own writing. He comes across as a sharp,
boisterous, engaging, and endearingly curmudgeonly man who had a
deep love and respect for his wife and daughter. Didion never speaks
of him submissively or deferentially, which demonstrates the equality
they enjoyed in their marriage. John and Didion’s relationship didn’t
follow conventional gender norms, given their liberal lifestyle,
their wealth—which allowed them flexibility and mobility—and the
shared interests that made them partners, collaborators, and peers.
The Year of Magical Thinking is not only
a memoir of Joan Didion’s grieving process but also a way of honoring
her husband and testifying to the intensity of their relationship.
At the same time, she bristles at the idea that anyone could understand
her relationship with John, which was so personal, private, and
specific. This makes the book something of a conflicted work, since
as much as Didion wants to celebrate her beloved husband, her reticence
at the thought of sharing too much makes her keep him at a distance
from the reader.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Year of Magical Thinking!