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1-Page Summary of The Year Of Magical Thinking
Over the course of a single year, Joan Didion experienced multiple personal calamities. Her husband died and her daughter was in danger of dying. She felt grief over these events and learned lessons about loss, powerlessness, and life’s mutability from them.
When we describe ourselves, our jobs and hobbies are usually the first things that come to mind. But there’s another factor that defines who we are as human beings. It’s the people around us, along with our relationships with them.
People and relationships are essential to our lives. They come in many forms: friends, enemies, lovers, mentors…but the most important ones are those we have with our family members.
Some people are capable of shaking us to our core when something terrible happens to them. One such example is the writer Joan Didion, who experienced two tragic events in a single year: the death of her husband and illness of her daughter.
The author’s daughter died shortly before the book was published. She decided to continue with her memoir and write a separate book about her daughter’s passing.
Joan was a victim of tragedy. She had to deal with the aftermath and find ways to move on. This is what she learned from that experience:
Big Idea #1: Joan’s story of loss began with extraordinary circumstances that were also ordinary.
On the night of December 30, 2003, Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne sat down for dinner in their Manhattan apartment.
There was a unique situation. Quintana had just been discharged from the intensive care unit after being hospitalized at Beth Israel Medical Center.
Five days before Christmas, Quintana was taken to the emergency room with a severe case of what seemed like the flu. It turned out to be pneumonia which soon spread and put her in septic shock. By December 30th, she had been unconscious for five nights. Her chances of survival were 56-69%.
Needless to say, the possibility of their daughter dying was very troubling. Quintana had just gotten married five months before and now she was in a coma at a hospital. She wasn’t doing so well, but doctors were keeping her alive with breathing tubes, IV bags and other medical devices.
The situation on the evening of December 30 was extraordinary. John and Joan had been married for almost 40 years, and they’d just sat down to dinner together when a fire broke out. However, in other ways it was an ordinary day; Joan prepared a meal for John as she did every night.
John was having a conversation with his wife, Joan, about something. She can’t remember what the topic was. He then stopped talking and fell forward in his chair as if he were trying to play a joke on her.
“Don’t do that,” she said. “John” didn’t respond. He wasn’t joking around; he’d just suffered a heart attack.
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Big Idea #2: Joan didn’t know the full story until much later.
John’s heart attack was a shock for Joan. She had no idea what was happening and wasn’t told some important facts. However, in the following year she managed to piece together many of the details of what happened from other people.
To remember the night of her assault, she had to go beyond what she thought and felt at the time. She used primary sources like hospital reports and even a doorman’s log to make sure that her recollections were accurate.
At 9:20 pm, paramedics arrived at an apartment building with two ambulances. They transformed the living room into a makeshift emergency room and tried to revive the patient—but it was too late.
John was wheeled out of his apartment building at 10:05 p.m. He was taken to the Cornell branch of New York–Presbyterian Hospital in an ambulance, while Joan followed him in her own vehicle.