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A Three Dog Life

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When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­ You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.

197 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2006

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Abigail Thomas

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,327 reviews
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,468 followers
May 13, 2020
Before reading:
Maybe what happens in this book is difficult, but I have the feeling it will have a hopeful message. I need to read something with dogs. You can rely on dogs being there for you when you need them. After the last book read I am so depressed with people.

On completion:
This book did the trick. You ask me how a book where the husband is hit by a car (in April 2000), has near fatal brain damage and comes to permanently loose his short-term memory can be anything but depressing? I will tell you why. It is for two reasons, no maybe three. First of all the author adjusts and learns to live with what has happened; she continues to be there for her husband and at the same time acknowledges her own need to live a good life. And she succeeds. She shares a wonderful life with her husband until his death, albeit not one she would ever have imagined. Secondly, the book is wonderful because it is very well written. Some lines will make you laugh. Some lines express a thought just so perfectly. Thirdly, the book is interesting. You will learn of Outsider Art, and I promise you the chapter "Edward Batterman Sleeps at Home" will have you seriously reconsidering what we know today of how the brain functions! This book is anything but depressing - there is an appreciation of life, there are lines you want to memorize and there is aroused curiosity to learn more.

There are so many lines I should quote, but here are just a few:

Once in a while Rich says something that takes my breath away: "I feel like a tent that wants to be a kite, tugging at my stakes," he said one day, out of a clear blue sky. He was lying in a hospital bed, but his eyes were joyous. (page 162)

You must remember one could not talk with Rich. He was psychotic. He could be ragingly violent.

Here is a sentence about art and writing, about creativity:

I didn't start writing until I was forty-seven. I had always wanted to write but thought you needed a degree, or membership in a club nobody had asked me to join. I thought God had to touch you on the forehead. I thought you needed to have something specific to say, something important, and I thought you needed all that laid out from git-go.It was a long time before I realized that you don't have to start right, you just have to start. Put pen to paper.... (page 149)

In this book there are gardening scenes that will have you laughing, there are eye-openers about survivor's guilt and there are of course those events we who love dogs will immediately recognize: how do you break up a dog fight. Here is some advice that I found rather amusing:

Grab the haunches of the smaller dog and pull. Or grab the haunches of the larger dog and pull. Forget about being bitten. Or consider what your friend Claudette did in this situation and recall her words for their comic relief. "I screamed and threw a paper towel at them."

Carry a water pistol at all times filled with some repellent liquid....Tear gas. Wear an earsplitting whistle around your neck. Have handy a coffee can filled with coins to shake at them.....

Try another approach. At the slightest sign of an escalating growl, get up and leave the room. This is called "removing yourself from the equation" and try to remember what this has to do with mathematics. Fail. Discover that when you are gone they lost interest in fighting and wonder whether everything is always your fault.
(pages 67 and 69)

Sure, give me a break. ALWAYS carry that whistle or have the coffee can stuffed in your pocket?! If you are a dog lover you will love this book. I am not allowed to have Oscar in our bed anymore..... She gets to have all three with her, cuddled up next to her in bed. Hmmph. I am jealous, but she knows too she is lucky. Did you hear what I just said?

Have you finished a depressing book? Do you want to be cheered up? Pick this book.
Profile Image for Keleigh.
90 reviews51 followers
February 17, 2008
This book struck me as both straightforward and subtly complex. The language is simple and unassuming, yet the attention to detail creates a much more layered and nuanced portrait than first perceived. I was intrigued, albeit occasionally confused, by the way Thomas hopskotched through time, shifting between present and past tense without ever truly grounding me in a “now.” I felt this was craftily intentional, conveying the “eternal present tense” that her husband now lives in, and she has been forced to acclimate to and adopt. My impression was that the chapter divisions served as placemarkers, signifying shifts in time that could be months or years. I got the feeling I was in “real time,” following the author through her process as she writes sections over a span of five years (the first chapter says they married 12 years ago; in the last chapter she tells Rich they’ve been married 17 years). This was really effective for me, infusing the narrative with a sense of immediacy that carried through the whole book, so that I felt like Thomas was no more prepared than I was for the next stage or revelation. As for disclosure/evasion–I too noticed how little Thomas revealed about herself, and about Rich, but by the end I appreciated this as purposefully selective. It got me thinking about memoir as a more focused art; rather than stuffing all the details of a surface life (occupation, date of birth, number of kids) into a big baggy autobiography, Thomas demonstrates how we can learn the rhthym of a narrator’s internal life through everyday details like what kind of food is stocked in her refrigerator, or the fact that she hates when other people remember things she loves better than she does. Rich’s history has been essentially erased; at one point Thomas declares that the past is not as interesting to her now as it once was. It seemed fitting, then, that she would not take time revealing “mundane” background info, except insofar as it contextualizes the present moment. Existing in the present moment is the theme that stayed with me most powerfully after finishing this book. Though I might not feel cozied up to Thomas as a confidant, I do feel invited in to a private space of observation and memory, as if she allowed me to hover along behind her as she evolved through her process of grief and acceptance.
Profile Image for Sharon.
993 reviews192 followers
December 30, 2014
Abigail Thomas's life changed instantly the day her husband, Rich was hit by a car leaving him with a permanent brain injury. Whilst recovering in hospital, Rich becomes angry and confused which leaves, Abby feeling hurt and upset.

We follow, Abby as she struggles with guilt, loneliness and adjusting to living on her own once her husband is placed into a facility. Abby moves closer to the facility where she visits, Rich on a regular basis. In time, Abby begins to live her life again, which she does with the help from her family, friends and her dogs.

A touching memoir, which I quite enjoyed. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Beejay.
193 reviews21 followers
July 7, 2009
My sister lent me “The Book Thief” with the great recommendation that it was “the best book she had ever read”. I read it, and she was almost right – I give it second place. My sister lent me “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”, telling me that it was a real joy. I hated it so much it’s actually one of those rare books which I couldn’t even finish, and swore not to feel guilty about doing so. My sister lent me “The Faraday Girls”, assuring me it was a quick, easy, delightful read. I finished it simply because I did after all feel guilty about abandoning “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” when it had been recommended to me by my sister, my best friend. And so, when my sister lent me a bundle of books with no comments attached I approached them neutrally.

In this way I came to “A Three Dog Life”. I just finished it. I wonder if there is a statutory waiting period before you can read a book again. What I really want to do is book a plane ticket and fly off to Woodstock, to sit down with this amazing writer, Abigail Thomas, and just probably do nothing but perhaps chat and perhaps drink - red wine or tea, either would be good.

This book is Abigail’s account of how her life did a 180 (no, not a 360) degree turn after her lovely husband, Rich, suffered massive head trauma when he was hit by a car while out walking their dog one evening in New York. The life which they had imagined building together suddenly was swept away and Abigail creates for herself an alternate life, a three dog life, that phrase being taken from an Australian Aboriginal description of a really cold night being a three dog night, ie it would take three dogs to keep you warm. And, yes, she does end up with the warmth and comfort of three dogs.

This book is so full of precious moments, little gems, that I have to buy my own copy – or maybe just forget to return my sister’s copy – so that when I go back to read it, as I will do very soon, I can underscore and highlight those pearls as I go, pearls such as:

On getting older, “I just couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without the option of looking good.

On her husband’s constant need to move, ”No, no, and no. Rich just needs to be moving. And I ask myself what use is a destination anyway?

On living a life unexpectedly alone, “… my house doesn’t fit me anymore. Maybe it’s because from here I can see into the empty kitchen, and then turn my head and look into the empty living room. On either side are these uninhabited rooms, quiet, waiting, but only for me, and I can’t sit everywhere at once.

And then to come to the last page and read this passage, where she and her husband, in an almost lucid moment, are chatting, “I ask Rich if he knows how long we’ve been married. “About a year”, he answers. I shake my head. “Seventeen years”, I say, “we got married in 1988 and it’s 2005.” “Abby”, he says, smiling, “our life has been so easy that the days glide by.

It almost breaks your heart, but that would be impossible because this book is not a heart-wrenching, tragic tale of woe; it is a beautiful sharing of the funny and the sad, and definitely not written to glean pity or bring on feelings of despair. A lovely, lovely book, and I wonder why my sister didn’t attach a comment to this loan.
Profile Image for Buggy.
491 reviews679 followers
April 16, 2014
Opening Line: “This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt. Everything else changes.”

Stephen King is quoted (on the cover) of this book as saying “The best memoir I have ever read.” Well I wouldn’t go that far but this was pretty good; honest, moving, funny heartbreaking and literary –the author is a writing teacher, so yeah. Oh and then there are the three dogs and her observations on them, (which are brilliant) and the main reason I decided to read this.

Abigail Thomas lives with her husband Richard in a cosy house with pretty furniture. She has children and grandchildren, and her telephone rings often. She likes to knit and is useless at gardening. Richard takes care of that. Richard also takes the dog for its evening walk. One night the dog comes home and Richard doesn’t. The doorman phones from the lobby, your dog is in the elevator, you better come and get him. Where is my husband? Richard has been hit by a car, his skull shattered; his brain severely damaged, their dreams of old age on the front porch with the comfort of each other taken from them in an instant.

Abigail’s memoir is about the following 5 years after the accident as she slowly puts her life back together, collects a couple more dogs and learns to deal with the twists and turns it has thrown at her. Richard is now in a nursing facility, he won’t be getting any better, he lives in the eternal present with no future, no past no 5 minutes ago, subject to rages, terrors and hallucinations this is the only constant in Abigail’s life as she moves forward.

“Richard and I don’t have the normal ups and downs of marriage. I don’t get impatient. He doesn’t have to figure out what to do with his retirement. I don’t watch him go through holidays with the sorrow of missing his absent children. Last week we were walking down the hall to his room, it was November, we had spent the afternoon together. “If I wasn’t with you and we weren’t getting food, the dark would envelope my soul.” he said cheerfully. He never knows I’m leaving until I go.”

This memoir is both sad and laugh-out-loud funny which is an incredible combination to achieve. I also found myself constantly highlighting meaningful quotes or reading parts out loud to whomever would listen which often included my dogs :) Cheers

Profile Image for Susan.
99 reviews40 followers
March 22, 2013
Some readers will be disappointed by this brief memoir -- it's not really about the dogs, nor is it about the severe brain injury that incapacitates Abigail Thomas' husband. Rather, it's about Abby trying to make something tenable of a life forever altered by tragedy and loss. Yes, the eponymous three dogs (Australian aborigines who kept warm sleeping next to their dogs called the coldest nights "three dog nights") are one thread of grace, instruments by which Abby learns to live in the moment and let go of past and future. But there are other such threads as well (knitting, art). Also, some readers might be stymied by the mish-mash timeline underpinning this memoir; the narrative progresses thematically around issues like guilt, comfort, isolation, etc. rather than chronologically. If you're a reader who craves structure, beware! Think instead of imagism -- where the artist's point is not didactic, but instead aims to present clarity and purity through images (in this regard, Rich's strange, otherworldly utterances that border on premonition are especially, well . . . rich).

Having said all this, the beauty of Three Dog Life (and there is a bracing, spare beauty to it) lies in the deceptively simple prose, the nothing-short-of-inspiring love Abby bears her husband, even when he is not the man she married or knew, and her hard earned courage in facing the daunting challenge not only of coping, but creating a new life for herself, one that is ultimately both more and less. As she says, to paraphrase: you might not make meaning out of tragedy, but you might eventually make something of it. To this middle aged reader who has faced her own share of life's slings and arrows, this rings profoundly true.

Once I realized that the form of the narrative -- the lack of a definitive timeline, the meshing of past memory and present circumstance -- craftily fit the subject (Rich's coming unmoored in time, with no short term memory capacity and seemingly precious few long term memories, either) -- I was impressed with the writer's skill. Finally, I admired Thomas' restraint around certain subjects, such as Rich's rages, her extended, blended family, her refusal to give the reader a "death scene" at the end. The book refused to pander to the rubberneck impulse. In this regard, Rich's closing words ("Abby, our life has been so easy that the days glide by") were a benediction. That's about the best you can hope for.
Profile Image for Karen.
580 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2014
Note: I listened to the audio version of this book

This profoundly beautiful story traces the changes in a middle-aged couple's lives after 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 the dog), Abigail begins to live alone with their dogs while her husband lives in an assisted living facility where she visits him frequently.

Rather than retrace the story from the point of the accident, the book meanders across time, events, and locations in a way that feels natural and sincere. The story's progression reminded me of how one's thoughts wander during the grieving process, and how a single seemingly unrelated thought will remind one of cherished memories of an event that occurred "before." This is a love story in the truest sense in the way that Abigail's life before is irretrievably lost: She must summon the strength both to rebuild her own life and to be a source of strength to her husband.

Although Abigail's tone is light and matter of fact during most of the book, there were passages I found so moving that I teared up. Having had a loved one who experienced traumatic brain injury, the conversations Abigail describes with her husband felt familiar, as did her kindness in not correcting her husband when he thought they were on vacation when just driving around town or any other number of ways. She showed her love by reaching across and allowing her husband to be who he'd become after the accident, rather than reminding him of what he (and she) had lost.

I found this book intensely moving. There is no "eureka" moment of enlightenment, but rather the day-to-day experience of accepting life and loved ones for what they are rather than what could be. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Grace.
692 reviews1 follower
May 1, 2010
Abigail Thomas' "A Three Dog Life" is a jumbled up mess of a memoir that is out of control and incredibly difficult to follow. Is it about her three dogs? Is it about using the three dogs to cope after his husband's accident? Is it about her husband Rich's irreversible brain damage from the accident? Is it about her writing? These four concepts are meshed together in a stream of consciousness style that left me scratching her head and wondering who in their right mind would publish something so chaotically put together and lacking form and flow.

I am not doubting Thomas' sincerity in telling her story or using the written word to come to terms with her new life after her husband's accident that left him a shadow of what he once was. It is a compelling story and she has a great deal of experiences and life lessons that would entertain and inspire readers. Instead, I walked way from this thin volume (thank goodness it was short) wondering how someone so vapid and shallow could land a book deal about this story and then ruin it through poor writing and story execution.

Where was the rest of her family during the five years the memoir spans? She called them after the accident, but with the exception of her husband's daughter Sally, and some fleeting mentions of two of her daughters, nothing is said of them, how they coped, and how they fit into Abby and Rich's new life. As a mother and stepmother, how did her children not end up in this memoir more?

Reading this memoir left me with more questions than answers, yet I have no desire to get the answers to these questions.
Profile Image for Cherie.
1,286 reviews113 followers
June 6, 2014
This book made me think about why I read. It also made me examine my life a little too.

When I first started with the story, I was not sure I really wanted to continue reading it, but I had started. (It is hard for me to abandon books.) I am glad I did not give up on Abigail's story.

I read because I want to find out things. I am interested in just about anything and if I learn something about a person, a place or a thing, and if the book, or magazine, or news article teaches me something I am a happy reader. Like someone that I admire said once, "I even read the cereal boxes when there is nothing else around."

Initally, I thought Abigail's story was going to be about her dogs but it wasn't. Her story is about how she learned to live and have a life after a terrible thing happened to her husband. It was about how she moved through the processes of making that life and coming to terms with emotional things like grief and guilt in the aftermath of loosing the husband she used to have to existing with a husband she still had, but was different. She could not live with him, but she could still love him for who he was and how he was and she made that transition fit who she was and what she needed. And her dogs helped her with that. They comforted her. They grounded her.

Many of her observations about living from day to day, and past and future lives and dreams and how we move through time in our lives really made me think. They made me examine myself. I'm still thinking about it.

I also learned some things about traumatic head injuries and the after effects and about Outsider Art.

Thank you, Abigail for becomming a writer and sharing your story.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,716 reviews1,243 followers
June 4, 2021

The author's 60-something husband suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car while walking the dog. I was interested in his verbalizations:

• Then one morning Rich woke up believing that he had an eleven o’clock appointment with the Gestapo. He was afraid, but resigned.

• I told Rich that I loved him. He said, “That’s worth twenty hats and all the signatures in the world.”

• After our usual greeting, “Absie! How did you find me!” or “What time did you get up? I didn’t hear you,” he lapses back into silence. The nurses say he can stand in front of the bathroom mirror (made of shiny metal) for an hour or more, toothbrush in hand. In brain injury jargon, perhaps this is what is meant by “difficulty completing a task.”

• Last week he didn’t smile or greet me. He wouldn’t hold my hand. “What’s wrong?” I asked, this was so unlike him. “We’re divorced,” he said, as if I were an imbecile. “We’re married, Rich,” I told him. “We’ve been married fourteen years. You’re my husband, I said, touching his arm, “I’m your wife.” He looked at me coldly. “Transparent windowlike words.”

• In one moment of startling clarity he told me, “My future has been dismantled.” Last week he wouldn’t look at me for an hour. “If I may navigate this already swollen stream of self-absorption,” he said at last, “people borrow things without asking.”

• Last week, the week we were divorced, he looked around and said, “All these people dunking their doughnuts in a cup of sorrow, I hope it’s not contaminated by the River Styx.”

• Our conversations don’t always make sense but they are wonderful. “You squeezed all those colors from fruit,” Rich observed the other day. I was knitting a scarf out of red and purple wool.

• …when I went to pick him up he was agitated and miserable, he couldn’t come with me, he had plans, there were things he had to do. I wondered if he thought he was back at work. For a couple of years after the accident, he would get desperate, believing he was supposed to be covering a news story he couldn’t remember. ….He stood up and felt in his pockets. “I’m looking for something and I don’t know what it is. I won’t even know it when I find it,” he said. …… “I’ve got to go,” he said, getting up. “It’s late.” Sally and I looked at each other. We were only an hour into a lovely afternoon.

• “It’s been a lovely three days,” says Rich, and I know he thinks we’re on vacation. “What are our plans?” he asks. “Are we looking for a motel?”

• When we get to the nursing home Rich wants to leave the cookies in the car. “How will they know these are ours?” he asks. “They will think we are stealing.”

• The third day Rich tells me his foot is going to be amputated. He is calm, matter-of-fact. “No,” I reassure him. “Nobody’s going to amputate your foot. Your foot is fine,” but then I wonder. Maybe the episode left him without feeling. Maybe he was numb. Was that why he couldn’t stand? Here was a possible clue as to what happened. I stroke his foot. “Can you feel that?” He nods. “That?” He nods again. “How much sensation makes a toe?” he asks.

• One afternoon Rich was drawing what looked to be a figure lying in the middle of a circle of tiny skyscrapers. I thought about the accident, his body lying in the street.
“What are you drawing?” I asked, heart in mouth.
“A clock,” he said, and he drew another one, with numbers. Later he told me he’d spoken with his mother that morning. “I don’t know what she makes of it all,” he said.
“What all?” I asked, not reminding him his mother died years ago. Maybe he had spoken with her. I no longer know anything for sure.
“You live with a man for sixty-two years and then one day he doesn’t appear. Oh well. Is that what you say?” Then he sighed.

• Last week I found him in the corridor nearing the elevators. He told me he was looking for “the door to,” “the place where,” and then he gave up, unable to finish.

And then these random thoughts of the author's were entertaining.

• If something interesting is going on somewhere else, good, thank god, I hope nobody calls. Sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, toothpaste is just too stimulating.

• I have a friend who always carries a copy of the United States Constitution in her bag in case she gets a chance to read it someday.
Profile Image for Lara.
71 reviews
August 10, 2011
I scooped up several copies of Abigail Thomas' memoir, A THREE DOG LIFE, after hearing her read at a local, indepdendent bookseller a couple of years ago. The seal of approval on the cover by Steven King noting it as "The best memoir I have ever read." was certainly intriguing, but I was more taken by her and the glimpse she gave us into her life.

Simply told, in April 2001, Thomas' husband Rich took their dog Harry for a walk and was hit by a car. The accident shattered his skull and the life that he and Abigail once shared. Not so simple was the reality of what would happen next. All were left traumatized by the event that permanently altered Rich, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and a sketchy recollection of the world he once inhabited.

Thomas' memoir is a love letter to her husband and the one, then two, then three dogs that ultimately helped her through the emotionally painful and unpredictable moments that followed Rich's accident. She imparts so many lessons learned on the value of living in the moment, appreciating what you have right now, and wasting no time worrying about the future.

That's not to say her road to these realizations was an easy one. Thomas regularly struggled with guilt about what happened and her husband's eventual placement in a skilled facility that could better manage his volatile emotional state and physical limitations than she ever could.

Her writing is simple without being simplistic, authentic and just plain good. One of my favorite passages is when she realizes that life can go on and she can even expereince moments of joy and happiness:
"If only life were more like this, you will think, as you and the dogs traipse up to bed, and you realize with a start that this is life."
I was certain this book could have the possibility of wrecking me, sucker punching me when I least expected it, or even when I did. Thomas' story is such a tragic one, but one that is offset by her sheer commitment to her husband and herself. It's so beautifully told that I actually came away not with feelings of sadness but admiration for her, her perspective and her expertly and seemingly effortlessly crafted words.
2 reviews3 followers
January 7, 2009
I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through a tragedy or lost someone important to them. It also is a great book for anyone who has ever thought, dreamt or is plannng on doing any writing of their own. As a writer myself, I find Thomas truly inspiring because of that fact that she did not start writing until age 47. It's a quick, easy, inspiring read. Go Buy it!
Profile Image for Joanie.
1,286 reviews69 followers
November 28, 2008
Abigail Thomas book begins with a blurb that explains that Aborigines used to sleep with their dogs to keep them warm. Really cold night were referred to as "three dog nights." I was totally sucked in after reading that part but as much as I liked the book (maybe 3 1/2 stars would be more appropriate) it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

The author's husband suffers a severe traumatic brain injury when he is hit by car. He requires constant care and supervision and he ends up in a locked unit of a nursing home. The author sets out to create a life for herself. She has three dogs (hence the title) and they are a huge source of comfort and warmth. She talks about her hobbies, her friends, her dogs, and her the guilt she feels over actually enjoying the life she has built out of tragedy.

I was expecting a bit more about her husband's injury and his rehab process but that really plays a minor part in the story. The book is much more about her learning to live on her own which is definitely interesting, just not quite what I was expecting. I also wasn't quite as moved by the book as I thought I would be. The opening blurb almost made me cry so I thought for sure the rest of the book would do the same but it didn't. Something just didn't quite connect for me but the book was enjoyable.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books230 followers
October 9, 2022
Amazing, beautiful, sad, true. I've been repeating lines that Thomas has herself repeated: "Shopping is hope".

Mysteriously, I finished the book (I thought), feeling it was a quick read. However, reading the book club notes I realized I had somehow skipped a big chunk of material (like 50 pages). How did I do that? How often do I do that and not notice? These are serious questions. (!) All I had noticed was that despite the title there was only 2 dogs. At first, I was confused. Then I realized: yes, there are three dogs.

And I was thinking about that 70s band: Three Dog Night. The band is not mentioned in the memoir. It was a coincidence that I saw a reference to Three Dog Night while reading A Three Dog Life.

Also, when I read A Three Dog Life it was the third book in a row with a dog title. What does it all mean?
Profile Image for Chelsey.
244 reviews113 followers
June 1, 2016
A kind coworker gave me this book when I expressed sadness that it had gone out of print before I got a chance to buy a copy. I read Abigail Thomas's What Comes Next And How To Like It last year (on his recommendation) and fell in love with her effortlessly beautiful musings on life, grief, friendship, love and aging. It also happened to be the perfect time to be given this book as a few weeks later, my 14 year old dog, my baby, passed away. I began reading this the night before he died and it was such a comfort. Abigail combats her grief over her husband sustaining debilitating brain damage by adopting two more dogs, bringing her up to three. The simple love and comfort they provide is healing for her and a reminder of the simple joys in life that are still present even in our darker times. This warmed my heart when I needed it most and made me grateful for all the joys Shiloh brought to my life. This was the perfect book at the perfect time. Abigail's words are raw, insightful and comforting and I wish more people would pick up her work. I have one last memoir of hers to read, and then I will read them all over again.
Profile Image for Dinah.
211 reviews16 followers
August 23, 2010
Nobody rips my heart wide open quite like Abigail Thomas. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Master Class with her in college, and I have never encounter such a straight-shooter in both her demeanor and her writing. There is very little flourish to her memoirs: no padding of metaphors, few run-on sentences, latinate words only when they are exactly appropriate. This woman has an extraordinary gift for staring her very ordinary, and very difficult life straight in the face, and sketching its likeness with honesty that is both brutal and understated. She makes no claim of being the bedraggled, tested through fire heroin in her stories, but she does not spare us a frank description of her experience. Every page seems to say, simply, "This is my life, as far as I can recall. I am doing what I can with it."

As for the book itself, it takes the typical Thomas path of a not-quite-chronological exploration of her third husband's accident resulting in traumatic brain injury, and how she built her life around caring for him and herself in the wake of such a disaster. And on the truth in advertising front, it really is very much about her dogs. It is about the pack that she builds to support herself when she makes choices to abandon other comforts and luxuries. And she renders her pack beautifully. I have never wanted a dog so badly as I have in the weeks since finishing this book. Thomas makes no pretense of being a saint, capable of dealing gracefully with her crumbling reality. Instead, she admits to her faults and focuses on the blessings she found and created to remedy them.

In conclusion, I want to study at this woman's feet. Both as a writer and a human who seems to have really figured something out about survival through hardship. Good thing she teaches at the New School which is literally next door, we will be best friends.
Profile Image for Inder.
511 reviews72 followers
January 5, 2008
Abigail Thomas's husband of 13 years was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving him without any short term memory and unable to process most normal conversation. This is her memoir of coping with this tragedy.

I'm not going to pretend that this is a "fun" book to read, although sometimes it is. Ms. Thomas has a dry, self-deprecating wit that you can't resist.

However, I will say that this is one of the most beautiful memoirs I've read in some time. Every simple, spare sentence rings with truth and that special beauty that you can sometimes find in great suffering and tragedy. Her writing seems to just ache with her compassion and love for nature and life, despite the hardships she has endured. In short, I'm completely blown away. Maybe I'll think of something more descriptive to say later, but I only finished this this morning and I'm still walking around in the melancholic haze that this book created for me.

It probably helped that it was storming this morning, adding to the evocative moodiness of the finale.

Of course, Ms. Thomas has dogs, and they add to the poignancy and emotional intensity of this story, as dogs tend to do. The title comes from an old aboriginal saying. Apparently, the aborigines of Australia slept with dogs at night to keep them warm. So a "Three Dog Night" was a very cold night. I admit, I was hooked when I saw the saying on the flyleaf. What a lovely image.

This and "Dog Years: A Memoir" are the two best dog memoirs I've read. You wouldn't think a genre termed "dog memoir" could be so rich and full of emotional intensity - that is, unless you have a couple of dogs who have seen you through hard times. But both of these books are simply gorgeous.
Profile Image for Tony Bertauski.
Author 99 books697 followers
February 18, 2011
My wife adores this book. That, and the fact that it recognizes the majesty of dogs, I had to pick it up.

It's an easy read. A stream of consciousness voice that flits through the details of her husband's tragedy that leaves him with brain damage and the voice of a sage. His quips drop like Zen koans, cutting through preconceptions, like poetic innocence. These scenes with her husband are the most compelling.

I didn't realize, at first, that this was something like a collection of essays. So it doesn't unfold chronologically. The author bounces around the timeline, but once you're oriented, her words read breezy and honest. The strength of her writing is in her voice. I felt her life, her experience and reflection on events. Could feel her home. The smell of her dogs. Her pain. Guilt.

While I usually pine for more detail when reading one's biography, I really enjoyed the vagary of Thomas's revelations. And felt I knew more about her without the details.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,580 followers
February 10, 2020
In April 2000 Thomas’s husband Rich was hit by a car and incurred a traumatic brain injury when their dog Harry got off the leash and Rich ran out into the road near their New York City home to save him. It was a miracle that Rich lived, but his disability was severe enough that he had to be moved to an upstate nursing home. This is one of the first memoirs I ever remember reading, and it made a big impression. I don’t think I realized at the time that it was written in discrete essays, many of which were first published in magazines and anthologies. It represents an advance on the highly fragmentary nature of her first memoir, Safekeeping.

Thomas maintains a delicate balance of emotions: between guilt every time she bids Rich goodbye in the nursing home and relief that she doesn’t have to care for him 24/7; between missing the life they had and loving the cozy one she’s built on her own with her three dogs. (The title is how Aborigines refer to the coldest nights.) As in One Hundred Names for Love and All Things Consoled, Rich’s aphasia produces moments of unexpectedly poetic insight.

Before rereading I remembered one phrase and one incident (though I’d thought the latter was from Safekeeping): doctors described Rich’s skull as “shattered like an eggshell,” and Thomas remembers a time she was driving and saw the car ahead hit a raccoon; she automatically swerved to avoid the animal, but saw in her rearview mirror that it was still alive and realized the compassionate thing would have been to run it over again. I’ve never forgotten these disturbing images.

Unassuming and heart on sleeve, Thomas wrote one of the most beautiful books out there about loss and memory. I’d recommend this to fans of Anne Lamott and readers of bereavement memoirs in general. This is what I wanted from the rereading experience: to find a book that was even better the second time around.

My original rating (c. 2006): 4 stars
My rating now: 5 stars

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 9 books221 followers
August 7, 2021
It's kind of dumb to give books stars. I actually stopped doing it for a while; Goodreads allows that but Amazon doesn't. If you're going to use words to review a book on Amazon you also must quantitatively rate it. So I got back into the habit of rating. Anyway...it's dumb because I read this book seven years ago and gave it 3 stars. Now I would give it 100 if I could. I don't read books twice very often, but when I saw this book on the shelf where we are housesitting, I vaguely remembered it. I re-read the opening and was so drawn in I just kept going. My last review, written in 2014, said this:

"I loved some parts so much I'd give them 10 stars, but overall it felt too slim. I want more. I'm most fascinated by the wisdom and metaphysical powers that brain damage has conferred upon this man."

Eight years later, I agree with my assessment its strengths but I see the slimness as compressed wisdom. I'd often end a chapter and just sit there, ruminating. I adore the craft of this book, the heart of it, the way it's about dogs and love and grief and the daily-ness of living with whatever's in front of you. Perhaps I was able to go more deeply into this story and appreciate it in a new way because I'm older, because of what I've been through a lot with my body, mind and spirit.

Anyway, I loved it...and might just read it again in another 8 years.
Profile Image for Katie.
Author 1 book82 followers
June 28, 2007
Abigail Thomas's husband Rich sustained a brain injury after they had been married for 13 years. His ability to process new (or retain old) information was almost entirely destroyed. Thomas describes the stages of grief and self-doubt she experienced after her husband's accident. And the tremendous simplicity of these stages is what makes them so beguiling: the abstract concept of losing your husband -- of your husband essentially dying but continuing to live -- is one that on the surface seems straightforward: you'd find it sad, you'd be devastated, etc. But Thomas upends all of that, and instead investigates the unusual (and yes, often tragic) aspects of their new life. In one passage, we learn of the almost telekinetic savantism her husband now exhibits; in another, heartbreaking chapter, we see her horrendous guilt as she lies to her husband in order to coax him into the car to go back to the facility where he lives. The things she experiences in the face of this accident never would have occurred to me -- my powers of imagination stopped at the devastation I'd experience. But her incredible brain -- and her husband's -- make this memoir thrillingly unusual and entirely moving.
685 reviews5 followers
August 7, 2012
Wonderful, wonderful writing. Although I have nowhere near the life crisis to live with she had, I am much the same age and many things she said hit me as true for me. This is a keeper for me. (Since I have so little room for more books in my life, most books I read these days get donated to the library when I am finished.) I will go back to 2 paragraphs and a sentence on pages 169-170. "When I was young, the future was where all the good stuff was kept, the party clothes, the pretty china, the family silver, the grown-up jobs. The future was a land of its own and we couldn't wait to get there. . . . Well, now I know I can control my tongue, my temper, and my appetites, but that's it. I have no effect on weather, traffic, or luck. I can't good things happen. I can't keep anybody safe. I can't influence the future and I can't fix up the past. What a relief." I will have to come back to these paragraphs on a regular basis to remind myself of this truth.
16 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2017
I loved this book, although it was difficult to read at times. Not because of the writing - Thomas' writing is thoughtful, witty, easy-to-read. But the topic - what happens when someone significant in your life is altered mentally - can be uncomfortable and it's one that most of us will face. As Alzheimer's runs in my family, I probably will encounter it with my parents - and my husband may face it with me. How do you survive having to put your partner in a nursing home when he's a physically-healthy 60-something - who has no short-term memory, not much long-term memory, is paranoid and delusional but still knows and loves you? How do you build a new life that incorporates this change yet lets you live fully? Thomas addresses all this - and makes it funny and touching.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,744 reviews2,273 followers
December 3, 2015

"When I was young, the future was where all the good stuff was kept, the party clothes, the pretty china, the family silver, the grown-up jobs. The future was a land of its own, and we couldn't wait to get there. Not that youth wasn't great, but it came with disadvantages; I remember the feeling I was missing something really good that was going on somewhere else, somewhere I wasn't. I remember feeling life passing me by. I remember impatience. I don't feel that way now. If something interesting is going on somewhere else, good, thank god, I hope nobody calls me. Sometimes it's all I can do to brush my teeth, toothpaste is just too stimulating."
Profile Image for Dawn.
641 reviews
April 26, 2009
I learned from this book that it is possible to love someone so much that regardless of how they have changed, or why, or the fact there is no future you can continue to love that person, while still maintaining your own life. And the dogs made it possible I think. Amazingly coincidental, I began and read most of this book on 4/24/09; the 9 year anniversary of the car accident that injured the author's husband and changed her life forever.

Abigail Thomas has a wonderful writing style. I've ordered another of her books from my local library.
Profile Image for Khulud Khamis.
Author 2 books91 followers
June 8, 2019
Heartbreaking and life-affirming at the same time

This memoir hit close home, as our family's life also changed following a severe stroke my mom suffered and which left her disabled. My dad and I were her caregivers for ten years. Five months ago, she passed away.

A heartbreaking, life-affirming memoir of a relationship between Abigail and her husband, Rich, following his severe brain injury. Abigail has to adapt to life where Rich doesn't have a past, only the present. She opens up her heart, and writes with brave honesty about her shame, and then the rejection of this shame, about her inability to be his caregiver. Rich is a different person after the brain injury, but instead of pitying herself, Abigail learns to manoeuvre these new directions her life has taken.
There is a section on Outsider Art that I especially enjoyed, as well as the scenes with Abigail's three dogs, Henry, Rosie, and Carolina.
Profile Image for Diana.
141 reviews39 followers
October 10, 2020
This was a really good memoir about a woman adjusting to the loss of her husband to a traumatic brain injury: he's still alive, but he's lost short-term and long-term memory, making him a completely different person. The book is sad and funny, poetic at times and full of perfect descriptions. What makes the book really special, though, is the author's honesty in revealing her own inner struggles; her decision to value her own time, her own life, and forge ahead without letting herself be subsumed with becoming a caretaker for someone who needed full-time care. In other words, she had to deal with the guilt of placing her husband in a care facility, even though it was the best choice for both of them, as he was simply too far gone for a nonprofessional to deal with on a minute-by-minute daily basis; and she eventually lets the guilt go, as she should.

What her husband and she went through is tragedy on a scale that most people don't ever have to deal with. And so her memoir is a gift; it gives you a glimpse into how she handled it and what it was like, and how it changed her. So much was lost, yes; but life goes on. And it goes so much better with dogs. (Or the furry friend of your choice.)


"I take the huge elevator to the second floor and look around for Rich. He used to walk all the time but recently his gait is clumpy and uneven and he has difficulty getting to his feet. I go down the corridor, take a deep breath before knocking and pushing open his door. There he is, sitting in his chair, newspaper in his lap. I experience simultaneous feelings of joy and dismay. I have a sudden vision of life without Rich. It would not be like falling through space without a safety net, it would be like falling through space with a parachute but no planet to land on."

This was a beautiful book.

[Addendum: I couldn't help but notice, however, that the author is definitely upper-middle class: she can afford to buy a nice house nearer her husband, who lives in a care home, while simultaneously keeping their apartment in NYC. She has lots of time to relax, nap, think, write, etc. Good for her! But I couldn't help thinking what a different story this would have been for someone who was working class, or even just regular old middle class. First, they probably wouldn't be able to afford an expensive care home and so would be forced to care for their loved one at home, which would be terribly draining, and even dangerous for both of them. Not to mention the fact that in the US, even health insurance is expensive, and if you can't afford good health insurance, you are on your own and will be--not might be, but will be--bankrupted by catastrophic illness in the family. Maybe you would be forced to move in with other family members; but that's if you're lucky. If you have no one you could move in with, you would be probably living out of your car. Anyway, regardless, I thought this was a really good book. It's just the government of the United States that sucks.]

(I found this book in a little free library across the street from me.)
Profile Image for Thechicgeek.
23 reviews
June 29, 2010
Stephen King declared this "Best Memoir I Have Ever Read." I have to say, I am surprised by that. I did enjoy the book but in many ways found it somewhat uninspiring. Abigail Thomas details the difficulty of trying to live happily after a loved one sustains a life-altering brain injury.

My problem with the story was that I felt she was just kind of existing, but not really enjoying her life as much as she could. To me, she was in a holding pattern. Abigail was simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. She felt understandable guilt for wanting to live life and be happy, to move forward, and she was very torn by those needs and the love she had for her husband. The situation she found herself in due to this tragedy is really unimaginable. The story made me sad.

What I found most compelling and worthy of discussion was her relationship with her animals and the importance of them in our lives. In many ways she replaced her husband with her animals. Many women do this as they age, divorce, or have found themselves disappointed with life. Dogs are loyal, they always love what we cook, they snuggle and give us unconditional love, keep us warm at night and get us out and active in the world. They are our best friends and treat us like Rock Stars! Love comes in many forms, doesn't it? The question that keeps coming back to me is, when we replace our animals for human interaction and love are we really living our best life? Our animals are able to fulfill a longing that we have to nurture another, they give us great joy and it feels as though our empty love tanks are filled, but are we really just hiding? To face humans, we face rejection. I think what many ask when confronted with relational difficulties is, is it worth it? I say yes. To live to the fullest we must be willing to let go of past hurts, and release our guilt for leaving someone when there is only a shard of a person left. We can embrace our memories, and yet, continue forward down the road of life, taking opportunities as they come, never fearing the risk involved to truly discover our best selves and create a life truly worth living. In the meantime, though, our beloved animals remind us that we are loved and appreciated, and yes, life is worth living!
Profile Image for Jgrace.
1,245 reviews
April 26, 2016
A Three Dog Life : a memoir - Abigail Thomas
5 *****
One April evening, Abigail's husband Rich leaves to take their dog for a walk. When the dog returns without him, Abigail soon learns that her husband has been seriously injured in a traffic accident. He survives, permanently brain damaged. A Three Dog Life is Abigail's story of surviving a sudden catastrophic loss. Although she speaks of her husband with great empathy, love and compassion, this is not a story of his recovery and disability. This is Abigail's story of grief, change and growth. While her husband requires 24 hour care in a locked ward, Abigail's recovery revolves around her dogs.

This book has been on my shelf since it first appeared at Costco more than 3 years ago. I knew I would feel as if it was written for me, but before now I couldn't bring myself to read it. Today as I finished this brief, absorbing little book, I felt as if I'd just spent the afternoon with a dear friend who understood exactly what I've been through.
A little bit of white out on the text; change traumatic brain injury for tragic fatality and this could be my story. It could be the story of anyone who has suffered a sudden catastrophic loss.
And I know exactly how therapeutic dogs can be. She talks about napping with her dogs, "We are doing something as necessary to our well-being as food or air or water. We are steeping ourselves, reassuring ourselves, renewing ourselves, three creatures of two species, finding comfort in the simple exchange of body warmth."

There's a chapter called "How To Banish Melancholy" that starts, "You will need three dogs ....When you open your eyes (her warm doggy breath on your face) she will be staring at you with such intensity that you burst out laughing..... You follow them onto the wet green lawn. So now you're outdoors and it's five A.M. "
Been there. Done that.
The thing is, if you have responsibilities you have to get out of bed. It's just so much better if, no matter how bad things are, you can get up laughing.

Profile Image for Chana.
1,583 reviews144 followers
January 22, 2009
Written in a sparse prose that is exactly right. There is the tragedy which is sudden and heartbreaking, but it happens in a moment and one can't go back. Listen to this, "I thought I had accepted Rich's accident, even though I kept putting myself in a place where it hadn't happened yet. Rich hadn't left for his walk. I could stop him at the door. I thought that not accepting meant turning my face to the wall, unable to function. So now today I look up the word acceptance and the definition is "to receive gladly" and that doesn't sound right. I flip to the back, and look up its earliest root "to grasp" and discover this comes from the old English for "a thread used in weaving" and bingo that's it. You can't keep pulling out the thread. You have to weave it in and then you have to go on weaving." That's exactly right isn't it? There is terrible sadness in this book, but there is more hope and future than sadness. I laughed often, tried to read some of it to my husband but it wasn't on his wavelength at all. I read it so far into the night that I was asleep before I put it down, and I picked it up immediately upon waking. As soon as I finished it I started it again. A treasure.
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