The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 16 | Summary



Didion repeatedly notes how Dunne had complained they weren't having any fun. She connects this comment to a couple, Joe and Gertrude Black, whom they had met a couple of times. They admired the Blacks, who had retired and traveled to teach in Indonesia. Although she associates the Blacks with "fun," Dunne made a note about them as being examples of service. She wonders if she and Dunne wasted their time: "Why didn't I listen when he said we weren't having any fun?" Dunne saved notes in a computer file on the day he died, around the same time she was in her office saving notes on her own computer. She questions why they hadn't been together—another potential "waste" of time.


Although Didion has accepted Dunne's death, she has not forgiven herself for times when she failed to understand him or appreciate him. This chapter could be entitled "wasting time." Earlier Didion described how Dunne, in the last days before his death, commented he had wasted time with some of his more recent writing projects. Now Didion worries she wasted their time together.

Joe and Gertrude Black are vague figures who appear only in this one particular chapter. Didion does not seem to be totally sure of what they represented to Dunne. She associates them with "fun" and reads Dunne's notes which associate them with "service." She has a sense she and Dunne wasted their time because they did not turn out like Joe and Gertrude Black, although she also notes they would not have ended up in exactly the Blacks' situation: "I do not have a sufficiently deluded view of either of us to see that." Dunne didn't mean they would be volunteering in Indonesia, anyway. Dunne seems to have viewed Joe and Gertrude Black as admirable because they were traveling the world and doing what they wanted, rather than doing things out of obligation. Even more, Joe and Gertrude Black weren't just frivolously traveling: they were doing important work, but doing work that meant something to them.

To an outsider Didion and Dunne's lives seem quite similar to the Blacks'. Certainly they traveled for writing assignments, but at this stage of their careers they should have had their pick of assignments to do. Over the years they were both frank about their inconsistent money management skills. Perhaps Dunne is alluding to how they were not financially independent and still needed to earn a living, although they were getting older. Their standard of living was quite high, though. This question of "fun" seems unresolved.

Interestingly, Didion starts the chapter with the sentence: "I said I knew what John meant when he said we were not having any fun." Notice the first four words: "I said I knew." Didion does not use words carelessly. The implication is while she may have "said" she understood what Dunne wanted, she really did not. Otherwise, she could have begun the chapter with "I knew what John meant." Didion doesn't really understand what was in Dunne's mind, and this continues to bother her months after his death. She feels she should have responded differently, but she doesn't know how she should have responded.

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