The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 21 | Summary



Didion remembers being in a taxi with Dunne, coming home after visiting Quintana in the hospital. Gerry, Quintana's husband, had said Quintana was still beautiful, and Dunne marveled at the comment. Didion is bothered because she does not remember exactly which night this happened, how many nights before he died. She wonders if Dunne could "feel himself going," if he was afraid. Didion thinks of when Quintana used to wake up after bad dreams as a child and how she would promise Quintana: "You're safe. I'm here." "I had believed that we had that power," she reflects. She thinks of Death waiting for Dunne and Quintana at the same time. Quintana fought back, she thinks. Dunne did not. Didion concludes, "What gives those December days a year ago their sharper focus is their ending."


Gerry, Quintana's husband, is a very one-dimensional character in this book. He is often mentioned but rarely says or does anything Didion feels the need to record. The only time in the book she directly quotes Gerry is the opening of this chapter: "She's still beautiful." The reader can't help but be affected by this statement, just as Dunne was. Parents tend to be protective of their children. Dunne once said he believed adoptive parents are even more protective because their children were so hard to get. Still, it would be hard to find any parents anywhere who would object to a son-in-law who thought their daughter was beautiful when she was unconscious in a hospital bed, connected to multiple machines just to stay alive. This is a book about loss, but Didion never mentions that Gerry, Quintana's husband, was a widower when he married her. He also knows a few things about loss.

Didion writes about how her perspective on December 2003 is different now because she knows what happens to Dunne. The ending gives it "sharper focus." It was not Didion's intention to give the reader the same experience, but death intervened. Quintana died after Didion finished writing The Year of Magical Thinking but before it was published. The reader's awareness of Quintana's "ending" may influence the reader's interpretation of moments in this book, just as knowledge of Dunne's death changes Didion's view of the events of a year earlier.
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