By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Barbara Caruso
The Year of Magical Thinking is an intimate memoir of death and being left behind. In life, Joan Didion and John Dunn were married, successful, professional writers. John Dunn dies of a heart attack in 2003. Didion beautifully describes her experience. Though Didion’s story is personal, it enlightens those left behind.
The pictures of Joan Didion and John Dunn are intended to be before their marriage in 1962—two vibrant young people, well-educated, climbing life’s ladder of success. They choose to spend over 40 years of their life together before Dunn dies of a massive heart attack in their New York apartment. Didion describes Dunn’s death; i.e. its surprise, a momentary catastrophic change from life to death, and her magical belief that it really did not happen.
Didion notes that death sometimes comes as a surprise even though there may be warning signs; e.g. a momentary feint that leads to a medical exam, a diagnosis, a surgical repair. Is it a warning? Yes, but only in retrospect. Death remains a surprise.
Didion explains the details of Dunn’s death, the fall, the blood stained floor, the 911 call. She wonders if there was something more that she could have done. Didion struggles with the guilt of imperfect recollection and self-doubt about action in crises.
When does death occur? When your heart stops beating? When your pulse disappears? When emergency services cannot revive you? When it is announced by a physician? Maybe there is no death; i.e. Didion keeps Dunn’s shoes in the closet for him to wear when he returns from wherever he went.
Didion infers life is a moment to moment existence. Everything can change in an instant. Can one prepare for change that occurs in an instant? Didion suggests not. Just do the best you can. Didion deals with this change in her life by ignoring death, coping with today’s crises, and remembering the details of her partner’s life. The details keep his existence alive. Memories of his better judgments help Didion make her own decisions about living.
Didion seems to conclude-what you believe is what is. Magical thinking or not, belief gets one through the trials of life. Belief makes those loved and lost an immortal part of you.