The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 11 | Summary



When Quintana woke up, she said her memories were "mudgy," meaning she could not clearly remember certain details. Didion also feels "mudgy" about some days, although other days—the ones when Quintana was improving—are very clear. Still, Didion argued with the medical staff and questioned their decisions, sometimes for no reason at all.

Didion learned the stories of other patients in the neuro unit. She connects those stories to memories she has of others who died suddenly, such as a neighbor whose death in 1987 inspired her to accede to Dunne's request to move back to New York. If the family had stayed in Los Angeles, she pondered, would Dunne and Quintana still be all right? Didion arranged a medical evacuation flight so Quintana could return to New York for her rehab. On the flight she remembered Dunne accusing her of the need to always be right. In the context of editing his final book and being responsible for his words, the need to be "right" is especially complicated.


Didion seizes on Quintana's word "mudgy." Notice Quintana later corrects the word, making it "smudgy," but Didion continues to use "mudgy." "Mudgy" is uniquely descriptive. Quintana is "mudgy" because of her brain injury. Her brain literally doesn't work the same way it did, and she must struggle to pull her thoughts and memories together. Didion's own "mudginess" is the result of intense emotional stress. For a person who prides herself on clarity and being a "cool customer," feeling "mudgy" must be intensely irritating.

Magical thinking makes another appearance in this chapter, as Didion wonders whether moving back to New York caused Dunne's and Quintana's health problems. She knows it didn't, but she can't help wondering. It's human nature to look for cause and effect, even between things with no logical cause-and-effect relationship.

Didion brings up an accusation Dunne often made against her: "Why do you always have to be right." Didion could certainly be perceived this way. She second-guesses Quintana's doctors and insists on getting Quintana back to New York. Her desire for precise language must look like a need to be right. In fact, inside Didion's head (or inside the part of her head she shares with the reader), she seems very unsure of herself. She is scared and searching for control as a way to feel safe. It's not hard to imagine Dunne interpreting her attitude as a desire to be right, to not be able to let things go. Now, after he's gone, she tries to heed his advice.

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