Friday, November 17, 2006


Why wasn't God watching?
Why wasn't God listening?
Why wasn't God there?

Tom Waits

The Year of Magical Thinking is a horrible book. By the descriptive 'horrible' I don't mean in any way to impugn the quality of the book, which--like others Didions I've read--is sharply honed, elegantly reasoned, and deeply sincere. I'm rather describing with 'horrible' the events narrated in this memoir of suffering, of grief and mourning.

I recall near the culmination of the national fiasco known as the Schiavo Affair reading in the New York Review of Books an essay by Joan Didion about the case. I recall an unexpected turn in the essay's last third, wherein Didion was surprisingly sympathetic to the Schindler family stand, and in which she was deeply hostile to Michael Schiavo, to the point of re-hashing some rightwing claptrap about his motives, and even suggesting he was not wholly innocent in Terri's original injury. I'd of course long had my opinions about the Schiavo Situation, and finding an intellect I typically admire--and in a periodical with which I'm typically ideologically aligned--suggesting that I was entirely wrong was, to say the least, troubling. I remember thinking that if Joan Didion really thought Michael Schiavo had hurt Terri then perhaps I'd completely misread the entire national soap opera.

But I remained adamantly against the government's intrusion in the case, and simply shrugged off Didion's position as a quirk. I can disagree with my idols and continue admiring them.

Now that I've read The Year of Magical Thinking, and glimpsed in her own words what Joan Didion and her family had experienced shortly before Schiavo unfolded, I can understand more fully her attitude that Schiavo should be kept 'alive' by any means necessary for the sake of her parents. I doubt with distance from her own immediately successive family traumas that Joan Didion would still maintain a similar stance in a similar situation, but given her experience I can certainly see her point of view, and can appreciate with more compassion the 'magical' thinking to which the Schindlers fell victim.

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