Joan Didion's best-selling and award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, has quickly become the book to read about the process of mourning. Published in 2005, it quickly won the 2005 National Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The memoir centers on the death of Didion's husband, the writer John Dunne, and on the couple's critically ill daughter, Quintana. These are the events that inspire Didion's writing. The subject matter, however, is more focused on the author's reactions to these events.
The "magical thinking" from the title of this book is a reference to the disorientation that the author experiences as a result of the trauma she experiences in having lost her husband of almost forty years and having to suffer through a parent's worst nightmare—the critical illness of Didion and John's daughter.
As Didion tries to make sense of what she is going through, she explores the events of her life in relation to her husband and daughter. There once was a time when she felt she was living in a dream. She and her husband enjoyed a life of money and notoriety for most of their years together. They hobnobbed with celebrities and feasted on good food. They lived on the beach in Malibu, California, and later in a grand apartment in New York City. They also traveled throughout the world. But this dream takes a drastic turn when John suffers a massive heart attack in the presence of Didion, and Quintana falls into a coma.
This memoir proved so popular that Didion was asked to adapt it to the stage, which she did. The play was written as a one-woman show and starred British actress Vanessa Redgrave. Though it is not mentioned in Didion's memoir, her daughter, Quintana, died just before The Year of Magical Thinking was published.