Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

book 2 of 24 books in 28 days: the year of magical thinking

Filed in Books, Memoir, Writing :: February 5, 2010

Year of magical thinking

I set up some rules for this series of posts: Do not reread books already read.  Skim underlined passages only.    Skim and blog, skim and blog. Save time for books as yet unread.

I promptly broke my rule when I came to the second book on my list: Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking

When I wasn't able to put it down, I realized something basic about why I read memoir: to discover how other people "do" life.  I read it the first time almost two years ago, not too long after my
ex-husband's death.  I was trying to figure out not only what I was
grieving but also how I was going to write about it.

How did Didion "do" grief?  I read to discover how she grieved the loss of her loving forty-year marriage to John Gregory Dunne.  And I read to discover how she "did" writing.  How did she write about the marriage and its aftermath?

I figured out that (in shorthand) I was grieving the loss of time and possibility.  And I used, well, stole, actually, her "year" structure for the first few drafts, hanging my story month by month on the prop of the calendar until there was enough flesh for it to stand on its own.  In the most recent draft I finally took out the references to months, and in the next draft I think I will not even remember that they were ever so important.

After having written several drafts of my own, I was impressed all over again at the seamlessness and apparent ease of her movement in time from present to recent past to distant past and back.  She includes psychological texts and fiction and poetry without losing her narrative thread.  In space she moves from New York to LA to New York.

Didion moves so easily among times places and genres and impressions and descriptions and people and associations that it's as if she has woven a large, beautiful tapestry of very fine threads.  My internal critic says that in comparison I have woven a grapevine basket.  But that's okay for now.  Baskets can be beautiful, and with each revision I can move from basket toward tapestry.

Filed in Books, Memoir, Writing