Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking

My husband and I went to see a play called The Year of Magical Thinking. It was written by a woman called Joan Didion who I'm sure that I should have heard of but I haven't. (Can Americans out there help me?) I really wanted to see the play because it has been quite a hit, and it is a one woman show about grief, and so I really thought that it would be interesting. But I have to say that it wasn't. Not at all. I don't want to be critical of Joan Didion who has clearly lived through terrible tragedies (the death of her husband and her daughter in one year) but her play is really dodgy. I was so disappointed. Every day I read blogs which are infinitely more thoughtful, intelligent and honest than that play. Joan Didion seems to think that she is the only person in the world who has ever had anything bad happen to them. I also had the impression that she's never had a conversation with anyone else about grief. None of this would matter except that, at the end of the play, many people stood up as they clapped. And afterwards everyone else in the audience seemed to think that the play was wonderful. For my husband and I, the whole thing was a real Emperor's New Clothes moment. I left the theatre feeling really frightened because I suddenly felt as though I'm occupying some totally different world to other people. But then I've always felt like that so perhaps I should stop worrying about it. Maybe I should be more respectful to Joan Didion. After all, she's got a right to say what she thinks about grief. But should she be able to proclaim her story from stages all over the world when actually - I've got to say it - her play is just vacuous?


Tash said...

Well damn, my husband happens to be out, but: our grief counselor gave him this very book to read, but gave it with some extremely hilarious caveat -- something to the effect of "Don't take mothering advice from her, tho." Wish I could remember, because it was really pretty damning.

It's tough watching "yourself" in essence be portrayed like that, and portrayed poorly. I only realized after watching a kinda popular us tv program ("Damages") where at the end it's revealed that the psycho homicidal woman is such because (dum dum dum!) HER BABY DIED. And again in book club, book everyone loves ("Time Travelers Wife") where the mother is an eomtionally vapid martini-sipping alcoholic because . . . .her baby died.

It's tough when it's not you, and they don't get it right, and to your amazement, people around you are eating it right up as "realistic." Makes you wonder what we'll be like in a decade or so, eh?

Honey said...

here's a quote from her "The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.
you know that's it in a nutshell she is doing it for herself, publically and yes probably badly and I like the fact that you acknowlege that and yet also I like the fact you went. She probably needs the audiance more than they need her. I like what you wrote.

Karin said...

I've not yet read the book or seen the play. I've thought about it but I haven't. For some reason.

Reading what Honey wrote, the quote - I'm a bit stumped, it's over my head. LOL

And then tash's observation, that often the nutter's in shows are revealed to have had a baby die. Maybe that is why my neighbour would cross the street when she saw me coming, or turn the other way. Popular culture has shown her that I'm D.A.N.G.E.R.O.U.S.

Often for me, reading books about other peoples experiences of grief fall short because of format - beginning, middle, end. It's hard to relate to the conclusion part for me. So far, my life hasn't concluded so my thoughts about my children haven't either.

Sometimes I think about writing a book but not about grief exactly. I think of writing a series of detective novels in which the lead characters are the imaginings in my head of who my children could have been. I'm always wonder about them, who they would have become. I think of it as a way to explore that. Nutty probably!

Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. ((((((((hugs))))) I'm so glad I found yours.

Melissia said...

Online at last after the hurricane and have to comment. I am currently plowing through "The Year", a gift from my mother-in-law. It is slow going and her writing is dense and hard to read, but at times she does express an idea or a statement that has helped me in the grieving process in regards to the complicated relationship I had with my mother and my own grieving process after her death in 2006. I cannot imagine that a play based on this book would be enjoyable to watch, for me reading this has been an exercise in therapy, but I certainly would not recommend it for those grieving the loss of a child, most of the book concentrates on her relationship with her husband and her grief after his death.

Alice said...

Thanks so much for your comments. Tash, I've been thinking so much about what you've said. You are so right. I've read a hundred books which have a plot which is basically VERY FUCKED UP FAMILY AND CLEARLY THERE'S SOME BIG SECRET THEY ARE ALL HIDING AND GUESS WHAT IT'S THAT THERE WAS ANOTHER SIBLING WHO DIED ..... Great. Not only does your baby die but you have to be a fucked up woman who is making her family miserable forever .... Perhaps I should write a book with a slightly different plot .... Alice

Dizzy said...

I was pretty well screwed up before my baby died! My kids are pretty screwed up too. However, those who pour out this sort of claptrap couldn't make anything out of the fact that the death of my baby and the loss of other pregnancies gave me otherwise inaccessable depths of love and patience with the ones who survive.

I'm with Karen - the quote is over my head.
Half-formed thought - maybe it's not just the event that does the damage, but the silence we are expected to keep about it. We who speak openly about it can aid each others healing. Healing does happen when the loss, rather than being something that happened to us, becomes part of what made us who we are.
Diz, 20 years down the road

kate said...

I heard the play was awful. However, i did really enjoy the book. I read it several years after my loss and even so it taught me something about my own grief. I even wrote her a thank-you note and received a nice reply.

The book is entirely about the death of her husband -- when it was written Quintana was better & expected to make a full recovery (i think, from memory anyway). Obviously Joan Didion's feelings & experiences are different than mine, but i felt that the book was very honest and a refreshing change from much of the blah-blah that you get in reading books about death. If, in fact, you can find such a book at all. Not exactly our culture's favorite subject, eh?

Oh, i think this is the first time i have commented here...i have visited before (though i can't seem to keep up with blogs these days) and i am sorry for your losses....