In December, I am revisiting the best-received posts – number ten – a book review
#10 Three Dog Life 12/4
#9 The Evolution of One Writer 12/6
#8 Before I Built a Wall…. 12/8
#7 Birches – Robert Frost 12/10
#6 You Could Be Immortal 12/12
#5 FDR is DEAD! 12/14
#4 Ella and Louis 12/16
#3 Journey of the Human Mind – Introduction 12/18
#2 Writers and The Butterfly 12/20
#1 Lessons from My Grandmother 12/22
[OK, before we start this review, I’ll say it before you do: “I’m ‘in-the-bag’ for Abigail and her memoirs! I won’t pretend this is an objective review. Want an objective review: Try the next one.”- Charles]
“The past is in the wastebasket.”― Abigail Thomas
A Three Dog Life is an autobiographical narrative of Abigail Thomas. (1) Thomas has penned an open diary in her middle-to-mature years. It is startlingly honest, and it expresses emotions with rare authenticity. Anyone who has experienced grief will empathize with the author. Baby boomers will have flash-backs to the sixties and recognize the necessary accommodation to the years of maturation.
“Dogs are never in a bad mood over something you said at breakfast. Dogs never sniff at the husks of old conversations, or conduct autopsies on weekends gone wrong. An unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life is hell. We talk too much.” -Abigail Thomas
This book is a beautiful stream of consciousness narration from a very sensitive person. Personally, I could never cope with James Joyce, the stream of consciousness in Ulysses (2) but I immediately fell in lock-step cadence with Abigail Thomas. I found myself thinking of her by her first name. Thomas’ thoughts elevate ordinary feelings to be the most universal – “I’ve felt just like that” – some feelings are for lovers, some for friends , some for kids, some for pets.
“There is nothing like calamity for refreshing the moment. Ironically, the last several years my life had begun to feel shapeless, like underwear with the elastic gone, the days down around my ankles.”― Abigail Thomas
Without ever mentioning The Five Stages of Grief, Thomas lives and displays them in an incredibly intimate story, not of loss by death but of a dramatically, life-altering traumatic brain injury in her husband and love-of-her-life-partner, Rich. You are probably familiar with the Kübler-Ross model of grief, which describes a series of emotional stages experienced by survivors of an intimate’s death [in this case brain damage], wherein the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. (3)
To me, this tale has the bitter-sweet feelings that are the emotional equivalent of semi-sweet chocolate or sweet and sour Chinese food.
“Well now I know I can control my tongue, my temper & my appetites, but that’s it. I have no effect on weather, traffic or luck. I can’t make good things happen; I can’t keep anybody safe; I can’t influence the future & I can’t fix up the past. What a relief”- Abigail Thoms
The autobiography begins when Abigail is 46 and Rich is 57. Both have been previously married and have had children. They found one another through a personal ad in a newspaper. This narrative starts as a typical life of a middle-aged couple, In a single minute, their life turned into an uncommon life. The husband sustains a traumatic brain injury. Because he cannot remember his life before, his wife Abigail (author and narrator) reaches across and joins him in his new world. Following her husband’s accident (he was tragically hit by a car while out walking, Harry, the dog), Thomas begins to live alone with her dogs (starting with one, Harry, adding Rosy, then Carolina for the set) while her husband lives in assisted living. Thomas shares her life where the before, is lost irretrievably..Thomas summons the strength, both to rebuild her life and to be a source of strength to her husband.
“There’s nothing I want to relive—certainly not youth—and as for what’s to come, I’m in no hurry. I watch my dogs. They throw themselves into everything they do; even their sleeping is wholehearted. They aren’t waiting for a better tomorrow, or looking back at their glory days. Following their example, I’m trying to stick to the present. I’m not stranded here, I know where I’ve been; I can conjure up details of old haunts, even former states of mind.” -Abigail Thomas
This story is a one “full Kleenex box” book. Abigail (forgive the first name) relates to her children, grandchildren, husband, ex-husbands, students, friends and even strangers, so honestly, so charitably and with surprising sensitivity, you will not be able to be indifferent. She does this while proceeding through the customary defense mechanisms
I seldom like the stage voice of an author reading their book. However, with Thomas, with this material, it is a bonus!
Abigail Thomas, A Three Dog Life, paper, http://www.hmhco.com, 2006, also: Audiobooks and Kindle
(1) Abigail Thomas is unquestionable; an accomplished critically acknowledged the author in her right. I found it interesting that her father was Lewis Thomas, a physician/ scientist/ author, who has been a favorite of mine for decades. [Lives of a Cell and The Medusa and the Snail]
For an extra treat, in the Audiobooks edition, Thomas reads the book herself. I seldom like the stage voices of most authors, but with Abigail relating this personal story, it works beautifully.
Charles Clanton Rogers Extensive revision, December 2015 [quotations identified by bbnewsab my Swedish advisor]
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(2) Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialized in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach in February 1922,
(3) The model was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Macmillan, NY, NY 1969