Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Am I A Bad Person for Not Loving Joan Didion's Book?

I loved the first half of The Year of Magical Thinking. As a longtime believer in the catharsis of reading sad books, I thought Didion's initial portrait of grief and mourning was spot-on and moving and beautifully written. The passage about not throwing out her husband's shoes because subconsciously she believed he might come back was brilliant, as was her description of her disorientation and frailty, and her desperate quest to piece together every minute leading up to his death.

But as she began to meander through her past I have to admit I got bored and turned off by the WASPy-intelligentsia vibe that pervaded every memory. Her repetition of place names and trips to Hawaii and Paris, dinners at Mortons and meetings with such-and-such a member of the literati and such and such a party at such and such a famous person's house betrayed a certain lack of perspective--and a lack of enough description to clue-in readers who weren't hip to what each experience meant. And although I loved Didion's use of poetic quotations, I was surprised by how often she quoted her own novels and her husband's-- to me, all her reminiscences sounded so much like a typical elderly person's obsession with his/her life and legacy. You know, how many older folks can suddenly switch to the philosophy of starting to judge one's life based on who one knew and what one did, because--well, I guess because because one is in the throes of some sort of mortality panic or insecurity. And Didion's manifestation of that trait was touching in its own right, but far from magical, or illuminating.

Considering myself an empathetic person (but maybe this blog has made me harsher?), I was shocked to find how quickly I was losing my affectionate identification with and awe for Didion as the book progressed. Maybe, I thought, if she had waited another year to publish the book, she might have stumbled outside of her own grief to identify with the larger grieving community--come to the conclusion that because of war, thousands of young women go through the same trauma that she experienced when her elderly husband died of heart failure. Is this unfair of me? How can I possibly demand that a memoirist reach outside her personal experience, or undergo some sort of transformation? The form is supposed to be a rendering of the truth. And grieving and mourning are inherently indulgent, narcissistic, and obsessive processes after all. I suppose I just wish Didion's portrait of her marriage, and her family, was more intimate and less erudite. But maybe that's asking too much.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a worse person for declining to even touch the book, largely due to all the literati and intelligentsia's fawning over it. (See? Horrible.)