The Year of Magical Thinking

by: Joan Didion

Key Facts

full title · The Year of Magical Thinking

author · Joan Didion

type of work · Memoir/Essay

genre · Memoir, Grief literature

language · English

time and place written · New York, October 2004 to January 2005

date of first publication · October 4, 2005

publisher · Alfred A. Knopf

narrator · Joan Didion

point of view · First person

tone · Introspective, melancholy, matter-of-fact

tense · Present

setting (time) · December 2003 through December 2004; various times in flashback

setting (place) · New York City and Los Angeles; various locations in flashback

protagonist · Joan Didion

major conflict · Journalist Joan Didion attempts to come to terms with her grief over the sudden death of her husband, John, and her adult daughter Quintana’s serious illness.

rising action · Didion must cope with the sudden shock and aftermath of her husband John’s death while caring for her ailing daughter, Quintana.

climax · Quintana collapses and undergoes neurosurgery, requiring Didion to fly to Los Angeles to be with her daughter while still reeling from the death of her husband.

falling action · As Quintana’s health begins to improve, Joan Didion begins to come to terms with the feelings of helplessness and insanity that dominated the year after her husband’s death.

themes · Grief as a state of temporary mental illness, the pathology of grief in American culture, the role of family relationships in shaping individual identity

motifs · Magical thinking, the vortex effect, the ordinary instant

symbols · Waves, flowers

foreshadowing · After she first tells Quintana about her father’s death, Didion reveals that she will have to tell her daughter about her father’s death three times before Quintana absorbs the news.