The Year of Magical Thinking

by: Joan Didion

Quintana Roo Dunne

Throughout the book, Quintana primarily functions as a device through which Didion analyzes her feelings about grief, memory, and the relationship between parents and children. Didion presents Quintana—from her biographical details to the quirks of her personality—through the prism of her personal memories of her daughter, rather than showing the reader the live, adult Quintana as a fully-realized character in her own right. Quintana functions in her mother’s memoir much as the character of Cat does in John Dunne’s novel True Confessions: that is, as a composite of memories and sayings interpreted through a literary lens but ultimately distinct from the actual person. Didion never shows the reader who Quintana really is, preferring instead to analyze her relationship with her daughter in the broadest terms. Though the logic behind this decision may be purely practical, as a way of protecting the privacy of her late daughter and her daughter’s husband Gerry, the result is a feeling of deep affinity for Quintana without a corresponding understanding of who she was a person. Since Quintana spends most of the book in either a coma or a state of slow recovery, it makes sense that Didion rarely interacts with her in a way that would allow us to better understand Quintana. However, this literary strategy also keeps the book’s focus on Didion’s relationship with John, allowing Quintana’s presence to illustrate more abstract ideas about motherhood and family. Quintana’s death, a tragic postscript to the events of the memoir, only makes her apparent road to recovery in the final chapters all the more emotionally resonant and painful.