"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion is a story written the following year after the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne. Some days before his death, their daughter Quintana was hospitalized with pneumonia in a New York hospital, which later turned into septic shock. It is a classy story in the category of "Mourning literature".
The story can be considered as a creative non-fiction because throughout the story Didion tells about her feelings and memoirs using the first person narrative. She describes the chaos she faced and the ways she was forced to perceive and understand the world. In this story we can see that Didion rejects traditional style of fiction writing, and instead she creates a subjective way of approaching the story, her own style.
The tone of the entire story is unsentimental and the author's voice is precise, which conveys the muffled sensibility the author must have been experiencing the entire year following her beloved husband's sudden demise. The main themes discussed in the story are death, illness, probability and luck, good and bad fortune, family relationships etc. The other apparent themes are about the ways in which each individual deals with the fact that there is an end to life, about the shallowness of wisdom and about life itself. One of the motifs found in the story is "the question of self-pity" as the author struggles to find a state acceptable to herself. Another motif is the 'Magical thinking' which is an innocent thinking process that helps to complete control over the things that happen around us and change the world as per the intensity of our needs and desires. Didion also successfully integrates both psychological and medical research on sorrow and illness in the book. In the story we see Didion reading thick medical books on Clinical Neuroanatomy and books like “Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journal” by John F. Murray, but in the end Didion realizes that just as she could not prevent her beloved husband from dying, she cannot make her daughter feel better, no matter how much she learns or reads or how much she promises to protect her daughter. In recognizing this overall lack of control, the author is better able to acknowledge the impact the grief has had on her, and in doing so she learns how to “go with the swell” and live her life forward.
This is a story that must be read not just for the plain honesty of its content or for the simple beauty of its prose, but because in the end it is not about the dead but about those who go on living despite all hardships life gives them.