Grief has its reasons, or rather its mode of reasoning. The premises are wild, but the logic is irresistible. This is what Joan Didion means when she writes, in her title and on the page, of 'magical thinking': 'thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome'. She also calls it 'disordered thinking', 'delusionary thinking', and speaks of a 'fund of superstition', of 'occasions on which I was incapable of thinking rationally'. As time passes she reports that 'the craziness is receding, but no clarity is taking its place.' Clarity. This is the voice of Didion the mistress of form, the stylish, tireless enemy of muddle. I felt at first, reading this delicate, harrowing memoir, that Didion was being too insistent on her slippage from right reason, too hard on the alternative rationality of her thought. There is nothing disordered about the single-minded logic of grief. And what if the premises of a grief-ridden argument are not really wild, only out of line with the most stubborn, most literal facts of the case? Then I realised that the slippage was Didion's subject. She couldn't celebrate it, but she knew she had to be true to it.
LRB 5 January 2006 | PDF Download