Saturday, April 28, 2007

"The paramedic called the press and sold me like a loaf of bread." - Charlie Sheen

A friend highly recommended Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, and several book bloggers had intriguing things to say about it, including Doppelganger over at Fifty Books who called it “great and terrible.” (Which she meant in the best way possible.) It’s a compact, attractive little book, and the first couple sentences were interesting enough, so I checked it out and brought it home and it sat in my bedside basket for a couple weeks before my friend who recommended it in the first place asked if I had read it yet.

I had not.

I went home that night and crawled into bed with it.

I read a few chapters.
I skipped around the book and read bits and pieces, here and there.
I stopped to look up what John Gregory Dunne had written.
I put it down and have not picked it up again, nor will I.

My father died of a heart attack when I was teenager.
He’d had some heart trouble, and was on medications for high blood pressure (which I found out much later he’d stopped taking because filling the prescriptions was so expensive), but he also walked miles and miles each week, disappearing on Sundays after church often till dinnertime.

I was working at my part-time job at The Gap the evening he came home after a fruitless visit to fix some error on his driver’s license and collapsed in the living room smack in the middle of complaining about the inefficient morons who ran New Jersey’s DMV.

I drove home as quickly as I could, and I recall – but this CAN’T be right, they must have left by then – following the ambulance to Cooper Hospital.

I do – pretty accurately, I think - recall seeing him after they’d declared him dead, still and cold on a hospital gurney, looking old, and helpless without his glasses. I recall coming home to a living room littered with paramedic paraphernalia, which I think my sweet boyfriend cleared up. I recall my mom picking out a casket lined in blue “because he always looked so nice in blue.” We three kids made merciless fun of my mom for years about the little seagulls embossed on the inside of the coffin lid, accompanied by the caption, “Going Home.” (Yes, we were and are rotten children. We also pestered her for not burying him in his horrible, beloved Jolly Green Giant suit.)

So I can’t – won’t – read Year of Magical Thinking. It cuts a little too close to the bone for me. It’s been twenty years since my father’s death, and I don’t want to be reminded of the excruciating details. I don’t want to think about that night, or how we got through it. I don’t want to think about what my dad’s death did to my mother, or what it did to the rest of my thirteen-year-old brother’s childhood. I especially don’t want to think about what it did to my dad, someone who’d worked like a fiend for all his life, who tried very hard to be a good person but at the same time was crotchety and irascible and drove us all nuts occasionally, someone who I am sure thought he’d live to see his children grow up and marry and have children of their own, just like we all hope and expect.

And while I am sorry for Didion’s pain and suffering, I can’t relive my grief alongside hers. I don’t want to. I’m sure it’s a lovely book, that she is an exquisite writer. I will go read Slouching towards Bethlehem instead.

9 comments:

Sarah Louise said...

It's for the same reason I can't watch certain movies where the protagonist has mental breakdowns.

I'm sorry, BB. And it is so hard to explain to someone why you can't/won't read that book. But you did it with grace. Here's a "I'm in your corner."

I think my dad says it best. If asked has he seen the Godfather, he says, I saw the play (growing up in Hackensack, several of his newspaper route customers were, well...)

I haven't read Slouching yet...I think I tried to read Year a while back and for other reasons tossed it aside.

Cold comfort, my words, I'm sure.

xo,

SL

blackbird said...

you know
I know


I could never read it...I had a hard enough time reading this.

Anonymous said...

Awww, luvvie. My heart hurts for you and your brothers.
Loretta (LC)
xxx

Katya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katya said...

I always knew I would never read this book for reasons that are very similar to yours. I love Joan Didion but I can't read that book. Slouching Towards Bethlehem was wonderful from what I remember -- I read it a really long time ago.

nutmeg said...

I did read it and I know I would not have if it cut anywhere near the bone. So I know what you are saying and am very sorry to read of the loss of your dad and its repercussions.

Something of interest that Didion mentios is a TV drama called Tenko about women prisoners of war of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in WWII - I have subsequently watched the first series an really liked it.

Caro said...

I'm sorry you lost your Dad in such an awful way.

I can understand perfectly why you wouldn't want to read a book that reminded you of it.

MsCellania said...

Aw, BB, that's so so sad for you and your family that your daddy passed so young.

Of course you could not read that book. And maybe never will.

Major Bedhead said...

I can understand perfectly why that would cut too closely. I can't watch Steel Magnolias anymore. The daughter dies of complications from type 1 diabetes and the one and only time I saw it after O's diagnosis, I cried, hard, because it scares the shit out of me.