This book is written in the style of a self reflective memoir that ponders the author's (Joan Didion) grief of loss arising from the death of her daughter and the recognition of her own aging physical frailty. And as if this double personal calamity wasn't devastating enough, most readers will be aware (from the author's previous book titled “The Year of Magical Thinking”) that she became a widow a mere twenty months prior to her daughter's death.
I hope the author experienced some therapeutic benefit from the writing of this book. But I'm not sure the therapeutic benefit carries over to the reader. For me it conjured feelings of foreboding of possible losses yet to come in my own life. This isn't a happy book, and I presume it will create a mood of melancholia for many readers. In the following quotation the author admits that she also fears the possibility of future losses:
"I know what it is that I am now experiencing. I know what the frailty is. I know what the fear is. The fear is not for what is lost. What is lost is already in the wall. What is lost is already behind the locked doors. The fear is for what is still to be lost."
On the other hand, the book can serve as a reminder to appreciate family relationships and good health while they last. And when they are gone, there remains the memories. But memories aren't necessarily a source of comfort to Didion. She says, "Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” In her mind they are the cause of second guessing. Did she love her enough? Could she have been a better mother?
The author's words are brutally descriptive of feeling defenseless against the pain of loss and the experience of aging. She admits to moments of mental bafflement at her lack of ability to control or understand her aging circumstances. She reports that her doctor has told her that she's made inadequate adjustment to aging. She corrects him. She says she had made no adjustment for aging. But her placement of her feelings into the writing of this book is surely a step toward adjustment to aging.
The book's saving grace is it's elegant writing, a testament of suffering nobly borne. Perhaps the book can encourage us all to acknowledge the reality of our own aging. After all, part of the definition of being alive is to become older than you used to be.