I cannot imagine a sadder and yet more honest book published last year than Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and I cannot even bring myself to read it, only a review of it. In his review in the September 2006 Touchstone Magazine, "Pain Without Gain," Harold Bush rightly praises the nakedness and vulnerability of Didion's work. The book is, to use a metaphor, her "blood on the tracks" (thank you Bob Dylan), a painfully honest account of her grieving of the sudden illness of her daughter, Quintana, who fell into a coma on of all mornings Christmas morning in 2003, and then the sudden death of her husband from cardiac arrest at the dinner table only days later. Can you imagine? Or, like me, do you not even care to imagine?
As Bush notes, Didion begins the book by describing her writing of it as an attempt to make sense of the grief. In the end, Didion utterly rejects Christian belief, in essence saying that there is no hope. The "magical thinking" to which the title points is the (according to her) hope that sorrow will make sense, that there is life after death. She utterly rejects the transcendent.
You might ask how someone like Didion gets on with life. I don't know. Facing the emptiness of the universe, the lack of meaning that their nihilistic assumptions drove them to, more than one philosopher committed suicide or lapsed into insanity, unable to deal with life on his "non-magical" terms (Nietzsche, some think, for example). Most who embrace this kind of meaninglessness get on with life by self-deception, deceiving themselves into thinking they can create meaning for themselves.
What a sad progression. What sad lives. The antidote to such despair is hope, and yet God is the source of all hope. "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed," says Paul. Abraham, a dried up old man believed the outrageous promise that he would be the "father of many nations." Why? He had a reason to believe. God had spoken to him. And yet, still, with the passage of time it would have been tempting to believe that he had been mistaken, maybe not heard God or not heard Him correctly. I mean, God speaks in Scripture and then there are long silences, right?
Against all hope. No human, natural basis for hope. Even hope is God-supplied. We can hope God supplies it to Joan Didion. Then she can join fellow writers Anne Rice, Ann Lamott, and Kathleen Norris, just to name a few, who believe -- against all hope.