My Mom Writes a Book Review

May 17, 2009 at 3:36 am (By Amba) (, , , , , )

My mother has always been a good writer, but now she’s at the top of her powers.  She’s 85.  So I guess there’s hope for the rest of us.

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It took me all these years since this book was published (2005) to get up the courage to read it. It is pretty remarkable. For those acquainted with grief–and who isn’t?–there is insight to be gained as you recognize the overwheming humanity of loss and the bewildered responses of the newly bereaved. We do negelct the mourning and grieving that has always been part of existence. Whether this book compensates for that or not, I can’t say.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” In The Year of Magical Thinking, her account of a life upended by her husband John’s sudden death, Joan Didion chronicles the craziness, the jumble of events, emotions, memories she endures as she tries to make sense and order out of his death and her life. But what sets this book apart is Didion’s meticulous documenting of her mind’s twists and turns, her application of magical thinking to escape the inexorable rules of time and place and create a different ending for what has already happened. But all the king’s horses can’t repeal the law of the Democratic Republic of Death and alter an outcome. It is her straightforward narration, in all its dignity, complexity, and pathos that makes this such a riveting story. Not a “comfort book” in the conventional sense, it is a saga for explorers into the human heart and spirit, the Marco Polos, the Walter Raleighs, the Shackletons who enter unknown territory.

Maybe part of why I wanted first to make myself read that book and then to write something about it is that being old gives one a changing persepctive on death, maybe even on the act–or art–of dying, the part of the phenomenon of life that we don’t deal with very well. If being alive is a fulcrum, then life is one arm, death the other. I envision a seesaw. The death end is shrouded in fog and fear. Why?

~ Jean S. Gottlieb

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