Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

"Ooooo," my little sister said, "I've got a great book for you."

"Nothing sad," I insisted.

"Oh, well, um... not sad books..."

"OK," I said. "What's the book?"

"It's called The Year of Magical Thinking. It's all about this woman and how her husband dies, suddenly and how she gets through the first year after his death."

So I loaded up the kiddos and went to the library, where the computer system was down. "I'm looking for Autobiography of a Face and The Year of Magical Thinking. Where do I find them?"

The librarian shot me a look somewhere between what's-wrong-with-you and you-must-have-a-hard-life. "Both good books," she said. I nodded.

"Love Joan Didion, " she informed, "she's a really great writer. But the book is sad." I nodded again, since I'd already heard.

There are times in our lives when we go through Job-like trials, where it seems like the world is caving in around us and we can't possibly get more bad news, only to get more bad news. Summed up, this book is how Joan Didion survived, arguably, the worst year of her life. And her husband's sudden death is only the half of it.

Her frank reflections on grief, mourning and moving-on are refreshing. Although I found myself feeling sorry for her about things that only a devout Christian reader would. For example, she doesn't believe in resurrection or really in any kind of life after death. This torments her as she questions where her husband went and the overwhelming sadness of believing that she'll never see him again.

In today's world, a lack of belief in the hereafter is viewed and sophisticated, scientific, and intelligent. I found myself aching to sit down with her and explain about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the fall and the Resurrection. But even with all of the knowledge and faith that I have, I am not sure that that negates grief.

I was left thus ruminating when I learned that a woman I visit taught and love, had just lost her husband and was now a widow. Having read this book, I felt that I had a sudden insight into her personal tragedy. Although she was a "cool customer" at the funeral, not shedding a single tear while looking intently in the face of every speaker and singer, I felt her loss and I worry about how she will move through the year.

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