The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 7 | Summary



Didion creates a chronology. Quintana was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Day (December 25). Dunne died five days later (December 30). Didion did not tell Quintana about her father's death until January 15. They delayed telling her as long as possible so she could recover. Didion stayed out of the room when she first woke up, but as soon as Quintana saw her mother she asked for her father. Didion told her, but Quintana didn't fully understand. She thought her father had a heart attack and survived. Didion ultimately had to break the news three different times.

Quintana was discharged from the hospital on January 22, but three days later was readmitted with a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). She was discharged again on February 3 with a prescription for anticoagulants, medicines to keep the blood from clotting. With Quintana's involvement, they held Dunne's memorial service on March 23, almost three months after his death. After the funeral Quintana and her husband Gerry traveled to Southern California, where Quintana grew up. Didion began to think about what her own life would be like now, with her husband gone and her daughter out of danger. Then Dunne's nephew, Tony Dunne, called her. He told her Quintana collapsed in Los Angeles and was undergoing emergency brain surgery.


Since the night Dunne died, Didion dreaded the idea of telling Quintana. It was weeks after his death when Quintana first learned the truth. Note Quintana asked for her father right away. Didion even stayed out of the room when Quintana first woke up because she knew Quintana would expect her parents to be together. Didion has written about how much time she and Dunne spent together, and Quintana's expectation reinforces the fact.

Quintana was adopted at birth. Didion and Dunne both wrote about her childhood in other books. They often took her with them on trips. In the infamous "in lieu of filing for divorce" piece, Didion notes Quintana's presence in their hotel room. The three of them were a tight family unit. Naturally, as Quintana grew up she was with her parents less often, but she would expect both of them to be there at the hospital.

Quintana's medical complications are very serious, but not unpredictable. An embolism is a blood clot. A clot in the lungs, heart, or brain can be deadly. Quintana developed a pulmonary embolism, a clot in the lungs. Blood clots often develop when a person has been immobile, as Quintana was during her month-long hospitalization. The treatment is anticoagulant medication, which stops the blood from clotting. Evidently, doctors thought Quintana was healing normally, or she would not have been allowed on a plane.

At this point fairly early in the book, it seems like Didion's life is going back to normal. They finally have Dunne's funeral. Quintana and Gerry travel out to California. Didion can begin to think about moving on. She is still grieving, but there is a sense of relief. Quintana's surgery at the end of this chapter shatters all this. Details are scarce, but normal is a long way off.

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