Charles Clanton Rogers

Reflections based on poetry, music, visual art, book reviews, history of science, first-person history, philosophical essays and International Blogging

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

 

dogs three #2

[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                three dog life

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.

 

 

old dog #4

“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.

 

 

old dolg #3.

“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.

 

old dog #1

“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.

 

 

old dog #2

“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]

Write me at charlesclantonrogers@me.com

(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

11 thoughts on “Number Ten – Three Dog Life

  1. bbnewsab says:

    KK, ALL first-person stories express emotions with rare authenticity. So I hope you don’t underestimate your own “memoirs” that you sometimes post on this blog.

    This special blog post shows us all that without a well-functioning memory, we lose our identity. We then become strangers in our own lives.

    BTW, KK, you are often very talented in choosing the right music to accompany the emotions your posts are intended to convey. But this time, in this post, I must say you do it even better than usual. You really hit the bull’s eye in this post! I want you to know that, too.

    BTW once more, talking of loss of memory, this time I want you all to learn about what happened to Henry Molaison (1926-2008), more known as H.M., one of the most important patients in the history of brain science. Read more about him here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201201/hm-the-man-no-memory .

    H.M. became amnesic after brain surgery, but in spite of his dense amnesia, his intelligence was intact.

    Like the husband of Abigail Thomas, H.M. needed someone who could reach across and join him in his new world.

    I also come to think of all those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. They, too, become strangers in their own lives.

    When thinking of such tragic cases, who can at the same time still believe in a caring and loving God?

    Your memories ARE you, your identity. Without them, you disappear into a Nothing, a Void.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. clanton1934 says:

      Good morning, PK. Thanks for the kind words. I hope you remember you helpful suggestions to the first post on this book. Yes, H.M. ‘S case was a case that I remember from Neurology/neurosurgery instruction I had early in my medical training, The results of the study have been part of the education of countless physician/ surgeons.
      The tragic demising mentation of a love one is one of the almost unbearable realities which we must learn to live with while we respect the unique person who lived in this impaired body.
      There are many questions and responses to those questions that are valid and must be faced. The portion of reality that moves me here is Abigail’s tortured grappling (with the facts which you mention ) and her progress through the Kugler-Roos grief stages of grief . I could have forgiven her if she had become functionally depressed or suicidal!!
      So while recognizing the very real tragedy, I still think it is instructive and very emotionally rewarding to witness Abigail’s fruitful, charitable and loving life after her husband’s impairment! The acceptance of another disappointment with constructive empathy to the single mother with toddlers and of here positive contribution to ” a stranger-and-you-took-me in” is also a human reality to “take in”. In addition all of that is the lessons of the dogs who live in-the-moment, with out apparent FEAR which dominates so much of our lives! “Yesterday is history;?tomorrow, K is a mystery….

      Liked by 1 person

    2. clanton1934 says:

      “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery;” I say we have little to say about what happens to us ! We have a great deal to say about our RESPONSE to it. I choose the positive response of benevolence and instruction from love rather than despair. K

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bbnewsab says:

    And here’s yet another question to you, KK: Has your cat Darwin been naughty? Or why have you removed the photo of him (and you) on top of your wonderful blog?

    Is maybe your other cat, Einstein, envious and jealous of Darwin, so that he “forced” you to remove the picture of Darwin?

    We – all your followers – want to know what happened. 🙂

    Like

  3. bbnewsab says:

    Talking of cats and how they try to domesticate us humans, here’s an interesting article about feline behavior and communication methods: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151203-cats-animals-science-communication-pets/ .

    Maybe you can understand Darwin and Einstein better after reading that article, KK? 🙂

    Like

    1. clanton1934 says:

      I just sent you my quote from The Little Prince. – did you get it? I love this game! Game on! c

      Like

      1. Yes!! You can post it directly as a comment in our post. You also gave me an idea i have to present to the girls! They are very protective of their hard work…lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I can see why this did well.
    Your post are beautifully crafted and thought out and the reason they mean so much. Those quotes by Abigail Thoms are pretty powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

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