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26 April 2010

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these nyc pics should cheer you right up :D http://bit.ly/Nkpdg

Hi CR,

Certainly there are as many ways to grieve as there are people on this earth. I read “The Year of Magical Thinking” a few years ago (hey, lookee there, I do read non-fiction!) and I was really impressed by it. Indeed, Didion did not canonize her husband. In the memoir, she seemed so cool and composed, almost as if she was describing something that happened to someone else, and yet it was so evident that she had loved and missed her husband terribly.

See, I initially had this on my to read list, when I read the pre-pub announcement. Then the reviews came rolling in, and the interviews with the author, and I knew I just wouldn't enjoy it and pulled it off the list. Glad you confirmed my fears and saved me the trouble of reading it.

Thanks, Beth: pictures of NYC never go amiss here. Historical pictures, even better!

Ruthiella,
Oh, I know everyone grieves differently. His grieving actually seemed quite what you would expect. I just found myself wishing for a memory that wasn't sepia toned; maybe a story from her husband or mother when they pointed out that Amy also was human and/or had faults. Is it wrong that I often find people's faults more interesting and relatable than their virtues? And yet I am easily annoyed by people. I don't really know what to do with that combination.

Yes, Didion, I think it was the cool and composed that disarmed me there. I figured the composed was probably a last-ditch effort to control anything when realizing that nothing can be controlled. Damn. Now I'm really in the mood to re-read YOMT.

Rachael,
Hey, thanks for the reminder that I should be reading more reviews. (Evidently they can be helpful!) I read blogs, and I look at PW, Library Journal, and Booklist (which don't so much "review" as "describe"), but I don't really read long-form reviews and Amazon reviews make me crazy. Where do you find the best reviews?

I think that most people find faults more interesting that perfection. This would be a correlary of "happy families are all alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way". Perfection is boring.

Marmota,
Excellent point. You could have written this review for me--it would have been a lot shorter and better!

Calvin Trillin's tribute to his wife, About Alice, is one of my favorite grief memoirs (is that a genre now?) It made me cry like a little baby. He was honest and loving in his words. This one sounds alittle Mitch Albom does death. Maybe it's what we find in common with the family that grieves that makes us connect to a certain writer? I know I wouldn't find that connection with Making Toast, thanks for the heads up.

I have just finished this and am working on a review right now. I liked the book and felt that he shared a lot of his family life. I agree that Amy wasn't portrayed very realistically. I thought the book was really more about the whole family and the children and not her or the son-in-law. They are clearly a very privileged family and have a lot more going for them than some other families in this situation. But I thought he did a good job of showing the impact of this loss on the children. I gave it to my mother and she called it a 3 hankie book, (I did not cry like I did when reading About Alice, I actually had to stop driving my car when the cd was in because I thought I might cause an accident). I do admire his willingness to take up this tough subject in a death-denying culture.

I agree imperfections are more interesting and show greater depth of understanding. We don't really know a person if we only see the good.

Thank you for another perceptive, honest review.

Oh, Katharine,
How could I forget "About Alice"? Now that was a three-hankie book. (And yes, I think you've stumbled upon a new subgenre--the "grief memoir." I wonder what kind of list we could come up with.)

You make a very interesting point about what appeals in these books (the connection with the family?). I myself was wondering why we read these sad books--I know I've read a lot of them. And don't worry if you do end up reading it--it's still much better than anything Albom's ever produced.

I think Calvin wrote a memoir of memories about his dad, too, titled "Messages from My Father." I haven't read it but Trillin's pretty consistently strong.

Mary,
I think you're right about the emphasis of this book. The parts where the author is trying to work out how his grandchildren are handling it are really the best--as when he finds one of his grandsons laying on the floor where his mom died, stating something like "that's how Mommy looked." That's the kind of image it does hurt to read--and he did a good job handling such a raw memory.

Susan,
Well, I can't claim perception, but I do try to be honest here. You're welcome.

I recognize there is a push/pull when reliving and writing memories of someone you've loved and lost--the urge is powerful to preserve and show them as someone better and stronger so people understand what you've lost, but I find when I'm grieving the memories I linger on are sometimes the sad or challenging ones, or the ones that changed how I thought of someone. It almost makes me feel like they're still alive, if I'm still trying to figure them out.

That probably makes no sense. But seeing only the good is definitely not always the whole picture of the person.

Remembering Alice was a great book -- but at LEAST three hankies. And Trillin not only wrote that and the memoir about his father but also Remembering Denny about his college classmate. The Trillin trilogy.
I haven't read the Didion -- and I'm a big fan of her nonfiction -- because I was kind of irritated by the excerpt that ran in the NY Times. Grief is so weird, I know, but I just felt like shaking her and telling her to shape up -- she had a good long time with John Gregory Dunne and it wasn't like he died terribly young. Of course she did have that happen, with her daughter, and reading about THAT, or even just knowing it was going to happen to her while coping with the grief for her husband, seemed too terrible.

I used to love this genre.

When I read Didion's book, I was so powerfully moved. When other people criticized it and said that she was cold and they didn't "believe" her grief, it made me terribly angry. Why couldn't they see her shock and disbelief and know how intensely she was feeling?? It was the first time I ever wanted to beat up a whole book club.

Nan,
I think a lot of people had that reaction to the Didion. Between her cool style and the other facts you mention--that Dunne wasn't a particularly young man, influenced that. But I found it heartbreaking and honest in a way this Rosenblatt book wasn't (or as much). For one thing, it felt like Didion was mourning the man her (complicated) friend, as well as her marriage. Having her daughter sick at the same time just emphasized how much one comes to depend on another person's presence, just to share an experience, and to lose that in the middle of stress....wow. That tears it. I'm re-reading it soon.

Bybee,
I'm a bawler myself but I could completely understand Didion's grief, which seemed so vast it couldn't even be described. I think she's such an interesting combination of cool and rational, along with sensual--her writing is not particularly prudish but she does bring an air of trying to intellectually understand things that perhaps can't be intellectually understood.

Ha! On the book club. I once went to a book club about Carol Shields's great novel "Unless" in a very fragile emotional state, and also wanted to beat up the room when they seemed to be missing some of the grief/struggling parts of the book.

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