the year of magical thinking

I’ve decided to start posting about the books I read. I read a lot, and I read a fairly wide variety of books. I love talking about books and I love getting recommendations for what to read next, so feel free to join in the conversation in the comments below. 

much love, friends.

- e xx

I read much of The Year of Magical Thinking on the train. I did a lot of my reading on the train last semester. Filled with work and uni, my weeks were busy; the train is my time out. My deep-breath space. My no-obligations, can’t do anything about that right now wild card. My reading nook.

Usually I could get a seat, although for the 7.29 limited express via the city loop on Tuesdays and the ‘sometime during the peak hour’ Wednesday evening train I’m standing up all the way. I don’t mind, so long as I can face forward.

Sometimes I would close the book and stare out the window and the greenery rushing by and try not to sob, the heart-wrenching words of Joan Didion kicking me in the guts. Trains aren’t great for reading books like this. I don’t want to be around people when I’m reading something like this.

When I thought of the phrase ‘magical thinking’, I didn’t imagine a book like this. Maybe I’ve read too much Harry Potter and the like, but my naïve mind didn’t imagine a world where you can know someone’s never coming back but still keep his shoes, cremate him but expect him home for dinner. The illogical patterns of magical thinking aren’t supposed to make sense. Grief is something that happens to you, not something you do to work through the pain. Didion breaks down her experience of grief, interweaving the simple, everyday moments that throw her emotions into stark relief.

This passage is one of those I had to close the book on so as not to make a scene in the train:

There came a time in the summer when I began feeling fragile, unstable. A sandal would catch on a sidewalk and I would need to run a few steps to avoid the fall. What if I didn’t? What if I fell? What would break, who would see the blood streaming down my leg, who would get the taxi, who would be with me in the emergency room? Who would be with me once I came home?

          I stopped wearing sandals. I bought two pairs of Puma sneakers and wore them exclusively.

I cannot explain in so many words why this caught at my emotions the way it did. The utter vulnerability of even writing the memoir, publishing it, laying herself bare just cuts at my ability to breathe, but at the same time, she is a writer. She must write. “I have been a writer my entire life.”

So much of this book is how I would like to be as a writer, although admittedly I often put myself in the shoes of the narrator or main character of whatever it is that is on my bedside table. But the words that make up this story, the short sharp sentences, the memories, the interplay between cold hard medical facts and blurry grief tainted personal details; this style of writing is how I want to write.

“I have been a writer my entire life.” The way she writes, Joan Didion makes me feel the way she was feeling. Disjointed. Out of touch. Fragile, unstable. Liable to break into tears at any moment, to be sucked into the vortex. Every now and then I would be able to take a deep breath, like maybe things would get better now, and then she would revisit the night John died and I would get sucked under again.

The repetition and observation meticulously detailed in the pages outlines the emotions so clearly that they don’t need to be spelled out by themselves. The restraint, the almost plain words Didion uses are poetic because they are not embellished, perfect in their simplicity. She lets the experiences speak for themselves.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

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One thought on “the year of magical thinking

  1. Moseyed past and saw this post. And it caught me, the irony – your desire to write like she does, written in such a moving way! If you write at all, I think you’ll achieve what she does: the same authenticity, the same captivating, draw-you-in wording that says much in a few lines. Keep writing!

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