Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, is a book about loss, grief, and Didion’s slow return to a new “normal” after the death of her husband. It is not a book about gratitude.

But a state of deep gratitude is exactly the “magical thinking” that this book led me to. Because I have simply never experienced the kind of loss or grief that Didion is dealing with in these pages, and I have never been more aware or grateful for that. I can’t pretend to understand or identify, but I can certainly appreciate the vulnerability that Didion shares, and the comfort her story has brought to thousands of readers.

Because of my , I must admit that parts of this book failed to truly resonate with me. At times, even, I felt like Didion was bordering on repetitive or off-topic. But Didion makes it clear that this is part of the point. That is, Didion’s “year of magical thinking” is really a year of not being able to think clearly – at least not in the way that she did prior to her husband’s death. And, Didion seems to say, that’s okay. Grieving, she explains, is nothing like what we’re taught to expect.

I hope it is a very long, long time before I need to read these memoirs again, before I need the comfort and solidarity that they offer. But I am filled with gratitude, knowing that this book will be there when I do, because I know I’ll turn to it then and find Didion’s wisdom as timeless and perceptive as so many others have.

Interior Chinatown: Powerful, Playful, Pressing

Powerful. It’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown. By the time I was twenty-five pages in, I could totally see why this spectacular novel won last year’s National Book Award, and that feeling only grew stronger the further I got into the story. In fact, there were several points where I simply had to set the book down and digest a powerful phrase or paragraph, to savor it. “Powerful” also fits because Interior Chinatown takes on extremely important questions related to class and racism in a way that is bold and illuminating, because Yu does an incredible job of showing the transformation of his characters from both their perspective, as well as from the perspective of various other characters.

Playful. But even while Yu takes on these somber and heavy issues, he manages to infuse his novel with humor, playfulness, satire, unexpected romance, and so much intrigue. For all the nerdy readers out there, Yu is also playful through his use of intertextuality (sometimes writing in screenplay format, other times prose) and metafiction (Nabokov’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being comes to mind… I kept expecting to be pulled into the plot as a character, or for the characters to show up at my doorstep).

Pressing. Lastly, I am so grateful that I read this book now, for two reasons. First, it really helped me to read this book after finishing Matthew Salesses Craft in the Real World, which undoubtedly helped me recognize my own biases as a reader while engaging with Yu’s style (for example, I’m sure I would have been tempted to use the word “experimental” to describe Yu’s work, but now am considering that Yu’s style and approach might be new for me, but perhaps simply part of traditions I’m less familiar with). Secondly, and far more importantly, the timing of this book is significant for me because of the ways in which Yu’s fiction draws attention to the racism and stereotyping towards Asians and Asian-Americans that has recently been a focus in the media, pointing to the injustices, violence, and marginalization that these groups have long been subjected to in America.

Ultimately, this book is just as much a work of antiracist literature and socio-political satire as it is a fun and engaging novel. No matter what you’re looking for, this book is sure to challenge and entertain you. Highly recommend!

Related Links:

Anti-Asian Violence in US Demands Response

National Book Award Winners 2020

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