The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 13 | Summary



Didion didn't start dreaming again until the summer, months after Dunne's death. She recounts several dreams, all about Dunne. She dreamed of hanging Dunne's favorite belt in the closet. It breaks in her hands and she must fix it. The belt is identical to the one Dunne was wearing when he died. In another dream Didion and Dunne are supposed to fly to Hawaii together, but they get separated and she is left behind. She is angry at Dunne for going without her and angry at the flight arrangements that separated them.

Outside of dreams, Didion found comfort in using an old set of dishes Dunne's mother bought him before he and Didion were married. She would do extra rounds of dishwashing just to make sure they were always available. She has no letters from her husband because they were rarely apart, and if they were they had long phone calls to stay in touch. Instead she has small presents he bought her, some of which, like an old clock, no longer worked, but she would not throw any of them away.

She thinks of her last birthday present from Dunne—her birthday was 25 days before he died. He was rereading a section of one of her books to examine how she achieved a certain effect on the reader, and he told her: "Don't ever tell me again you can't write. That's my birthday present to you." It was a gift no one else could give her, and Didion cries over it.


Didion's subconscious is not exactly subtle. The broken belt represents Dunne and how much Didion would like to fix what happened to him. In another dream she resents being left behind because of "flight arrangements" she cannot control. She is now left behind, alive, because of Dunne's death, which she could not control.

There is also symbolism in the old things that remind Didion of Dunne, things she cannot throw away. She uses a "mostly broken or chipped" set of plates because they give her solace. She cannot move on to other plates, any more than she can toss out a broken clock and a set of pens that no longer write. These are symbols of Dunne now, and as such they are sacred.

From her description it seems clear Didion and Dunne sometimes skipped giving gifts altogether. On the last birthday she shared with Dunne, though, he gave her something irreplaceable: a powerful compliment about her writing. For couples who work in the same field, compliments can sometimes be hard to share. Dunne and Didion wrote articles and books separately, and at various points in time one of them was more successful than the other. Even if there was jealousy, Didion says Dunne often edited her work. An editor often focuses on the writing that doesn't work more than the writing that does, so Dunne's praise would feel even more precious.

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