Ice Friday: Joan Didion Confronts Mortality

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking faces the harrowing absence of death with systematically beautiful language.

On most surface levels I seemed rational. To the average observer I would have appeared to understand that death was irreversible. I had authorized the autopsy. I had arranged for cremation. I had seen the ashes placed in the wall and the marble plate replaced and the service held. I had done it. I had acknowledged that my husband was dead. P1000848I had done this in as public a way as I could conceive.Yet my thinking on this point remained suspiciously fluid. I happened to meet a prominent academic theologian who spoke of ritual itself as a form of faith. My reaction was unexpressed but negative, vehement, excessive even in me.

Later I realized that my immediate thought had been that I did the ritual. I did it all. And it still didn’t bring him back. Bringing him back had been through those months my hidden focus, a magic trick. P1000829By late summer, I was beginning to see this clearly. “Seeing it clearly” did not yet allow me to give away the clothes he would need.

“Half a Life” (Darin Strauss)

Darin Strauss’ Half a Life is an intensely personal experience. DarinStrauss-590x392The raw and relentless prose made me turn within and question who I am. Not that I have had the same experience as Strauss – who accidentally ran over a girl when he was a teenager – but that I have moments in my life that make me shudder, make me turn back and wonder who that was that went through that. Where is that person in the me that is now?cigarNo one who encountered me in classrooms, at a frat party, the campus center, noticed the fierce inner battles I’d fought to make the different Darins into a Darin that friends could recognize.

The rawness of his prose is reminiscent of Joan Didion’s devastating The Year of Magical Thinking.

Quintana, John Donne and Joan Didion

Quintana, John Dunne and Joan Didion

It is especially clear in the delicate descriptions of every moment, every thought, always returning to the same thing, someone who is gone.

I remember the first time after the accident my name was called in the class, the feel of pause and hush in the room, like deer scenting something strange. Everyone’s ears and tails flicked. 

Strauss’ story is a compelling narrative, a personal journey that won’t leave you alone, that prods your memories and makes you think. IMAG2416Relationships are physics. Time transforms  things – it has to, because the change from me to we means clearing away the fortifications you’ve put up around your old personality.