It’s not only the weather in California that is consistently different from the rest of the country but there is an attitude that goes with it that few authors have ever tried to explore. That’s why I’m so drawn to Joan Didion because her writing, especially Where I Was From, managed to help frame some of the ambivalence I feel about being a native daughter myself. There is a good review in the New York Times about it although I think they miss the sense of California dreaming she invokes. If you are ever curious about the entitlement most Californians seem to flaunt then reading this book will help you understand part of that mystique.
Making the cultural examination personal, explaining sensations as well as history, that is her true talent because The Year of Magical Thinking is one of those books that make you feel like a friend is in the room talking about how grief feels. Even with a mood of numb detachment, so many passages are spot on you will recognize yourself in them. Which is why a stage play adapted from her memoir called The Sound of One Heart Breaking makes so much sense. Here is one passage in particular that stuck with me,
Survivors look back and see omens, messages, they missed. They remember the tree that died, the gull that splattered onto he hood of the car. They live by symbols. They read meaning into the barrage of spam on the unused computer, the delete key that stops working, the imagined abandonment in the decision to replace it. …One day I was talking on the telephone in his office I mindlessly turned the pages of the dictionary that he had always left open on the table by the desk. When I realized what I had done I was stricken: what word had he last looked up, what had he been thinking? By turning the pages had I lost the message? Or had the message been lost before I touched the dictionary?…
This book won the National Book Award in 2005 and even on Amazon you can see how many people have bothered to leave reviews. It is a beautifully told story about a difficult subject. I hope this play comes to her old home town someday soon.