AUTHOR: Joan Didion
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2005
RATING: 10 out of 10
This is a really great book. Didion writes of her own experience during the year following the death of her husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, as well as dealing with her daughter's serious illness. I probably identified with her more than most since I've also gone through the death of a husband and some prolonged eqposure to ICUs and the medical establishments, both with my husband and when my daughter developed amniotic embolism last March during childbirth. (She had a healthy child but was in danger herself and on life support for a few days.)
Didion's writing is magical. I read the essays in Slouching toward Bethlehem, published originally in 1968, over and over again when I first discovered them. For years I taught essays like California Dreaming ("This is a story about love and death in the golden land...[and]...the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamer how to live" and On Keeping a Notebook ("The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself" to students who never quite got why I raved so at her prose. If ever I had a writing mentor it was Didion.
This one is profound. Understated as everything she writes is understated. The result is a bigger big bang when you get the emotion hiding just beneath the surface. One hospital official described her as a "cool customer" the night her husband died of a massive heart attack. Little did he know.