The hit of the fall book season is bound to be Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a chronicle of her grief and shock after the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne in late 2003. The New York Times Magazine ran an irresistible excerpt last Sunday.
Now everyone knows the team of Didion-Dunne was quintessentially liberal-literary. But Tom Mallon has also called Didion, “arguably, a great American writer,” which is good enough for me. She writes with a directness that is disarming. It’s good to learn that she had poured her husband a second scotch just before he fell dead from a massive heart attack. It’s amusing to read how important it was to her that the Los Angeles Times not learn about Dunne’s death from a New York Times obituary. It’s instructive to observe how hard the couple worked at being who they were.
Even at a restaurant they would take notes. One of his last, which he said she could use for her own book on sports, complained, “Coaches used to go out after a game and say, ‘You played great.’ Now they go out with the state police, as if this were a war and they the military. The militarization of sports.” Huh? For as long as I can remember, college coaches, especially in what have become the red states, have been escorted by state troopers on leaving the field. Militarization has nothing to do with it. Important coaches are bigger than important political figures. Police protection is nothing more than the homage a perk plays to status. I think the Dunnes would have enjoyed that insight.