Book: The Year of Magical Thinking

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The Year of Magical Thinking

Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Knopf

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage—and a life, in good times and bad—that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later—the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness…about marriage and children and memory…about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”


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During the Christmas holidays in 2003, novelist Joan Didion began a month of hell. Just a few days before Christmas, Didion and her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, watched helplessly as their newly married daughter, Quintana, came down with what seemed to be the flu, then contracted pneumonia, which led, within days, to complete septic shock and system breakdown. A week later, as Quintana hovered close to death, Dunne collapsed and died. Didion plunged into a mad state of “magical thinking.” Her response was unfathomable: “We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and might need his shoes.” A mourning no one could ever imagine.

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