Reviewed by Jessica Waugh, Library Specialist
This unvarnished bleak memoir of grief by award-winning author Joan Didion chronicles her first year after the death of her husband. Didion's spouse, author John Dunne, was also a gifted writer and soul mate to Didion. Throughout their nearly 40 year marriage they worked side by side. They adopted a daughter, Quintana Roo and the three of them traveled the world living what seemed a charmed life. Shortly after Christmas, 2003, Dunne collapsed and died in their New York apartment from a massive heart attack. Adding to the horror of that event was the fact that their newly married daughter was hospitalized at the time and fighting a major infection that followed a bout of flu. In stark prose, Didion describes the moment of informing her weak, barely-conscious daughter of her father's death. The two postponed Dunne's memorial service until Quintana was well enough to attend. One of Didion's more touching confessions was about her inability to dispose of John's clothing. She felt that if she left his garments in the apartment, perhaps he would return to her — magical thinking.
The year that followed her husband's death was plagued not only with grief, but fear of losing her only child. Shortly after surviving her illness during the first months of 2004, Quintana suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and lapsed into a coma upon returning to her home in Los Angeles. Months of loneliness, grief and worry for her daughter were the norm for Didion during that time. She recounts the endless hours spent at her daughter's bedside and with doctors at the UCLA medical center. She lets us into her memories of earlier happier times with Dunne and Quintana. Reading along, we are drawn into Didion's emotional world and the experience can be exhausting. As The New Yorker wrote, Didion has "the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad." At the book's conclusion, Didion seems to be tentatively walking a path to recovery, assisted by friends and her daughter's improving health. By the last page, we are hopeful that she has found the courage to make new memories.