The Year of Magical Thinking | Study Guide

Joan Didion

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The Year of Magical Thinking | Chapter 8 | Summary



Didion relates how Quintana and Gerry arrived in Los Angeles. They got off the plane and picked up their luggage. Gerry, who was ahead, glanced back to see Quintana collapsed on the ground. She was rushed to UCLA Medical Center, but one of her pupils was already fixed, a sign of brain death. She had convulsions in the emergency room.

Didion realized Quintana could already be dead and she wouldn't even know. When she was able to reach Gerry, he gave her good news: Quintana was expected to "leave the table." In other words the doctors expected her to live through the surgery. Didion remembers being bothered by the phrasing and thinking, "Whatever happens ... she will without question 'leave the table.'" She tried to anticipate "contingencies" but couldn't really do much. Eventually Gerry called. The surgery stopped the bleeding and Quintana was, for the moment, alive. She had lost a lot of blood and her brain was "pushed to the left side." Once again, Didion was on the edge of losing someone she loves.


No one knows why Quintana collapses, but there is no question she is very seriously ill. Fixed pupils and convulsions, tremendous bleeding, and the brain being pushed around—these are life-threatening symptoms.

Didion, as worried as she is, still hones in on imprecise language. She is bothered by the doctors' use of the phrase "leave the table." Whether Quintana lives or dies, she will eventually no longer be on the operating table. Even Didion's detachment has its limits, though. She notes how she and Tony and Tony's wife, Rosemary Breslin, talk about "contingencies." People generally don't use direct language when talking to a mother about her daughter's potential death. Didion herself shies away from it. In an earlier chapter she said words were not enough to capture what happened when she lost her husband. Words continue to be inadequate as she faces losing her daughter.

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