A memoir of life and friendship
Time it was
A fine look back over a life well lived
Apr 4th 2015 | From the print edition
“ABIGAIL THOMAS is not a painter, but she makes paintings anyway. Using oil-based house paint, which is toxic, she drips, flings and pours colour onto glass and then pushes it all around. Failed compositions are scraped away, yielding new and surprising arrangements. A dopey bunch of apple trees can suddenly become a ghostly stand of birch. “You have to have some faith,” Ms Thomas writes in her beautiful new memoir.
This is not a book about painting. It is about pushing around sometimes toxic material in an effort—sometimes vain, often frustrating—to make something that looks right, or at least to find beauty in the results. This, of course, is what it means to write, and certainly to write a memoir. It is also what it takes to find contentment, particularly in one’s later years, when most of the colour already has been dripped and flung. That is the real subject of Ms Thomas’s book.
In a way, the book is a sequel. In 2006 Ms Thomas published “A Three Dog Life”, a bestselling account of her last years with her husband, Rich, who suffered traumatic brain injuries after he was hit by a car in Manhattan one night. Bookshops groan with personal chronicles of adversity, but Ms Thomas’s work stood apart. In elegant, spare prose, she described what it was like to try to love and care for a man who was not at all like the one she married 12 years earlier, when he was in his 50s, she was in her 40s with four children, and neither could believe their luck. The accident robbed Rich of his memories and left him in need of round-the-clock care. The book was about Ms Thomas’s struggle to embrace the man Rich had become, and her guilt and pain as she created a new life on her own. Rich died in 2007.” More…
The Chicago Tribune
Abigail Thomas offers amusing, often challenging insights into aging in “What Comes Next and How to Like It”
April 2, 2015
“Pop quiz: Which is more unusual? (A) A debut memoir that Stephen King calls “The best memoir I have ever read … (by) the Emily Dickinson of memoirists,” or (B) An author who published her first memoir in her 60s (not in the ’60s, which she credits, in part, for her unusual life trajectory), whose jacket photo reveals a 73-year-old grandmother of 12 with a beautifully etched, seemingly au naturel face and body (all hers) surrounded by a handful dogs (all hers)? Answer: Both. In the form of one Abigail Thomas.
Review: ‘There Is Simply Too Much to Think About’ by Saul Bellow
Review: ‘There Is Simply Too Much to Think About’ by Saul Bellow
It could be argued that Thomas was unusual from birth. Her father, the late Lewis Thomas, was a physician, poet, etymologist, educator and policy adviser who was also dean of Yale’s Medical School, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute and a three-time winner of the National Book Award.” More…
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Review: ‘What Comes Next and How to Like It,’ by Abigail Thomas
By Laurie Hertzel
March 29, 2015
“I want to grow old the way Abigail Thomas is growing old — with grace and wit, humor and honesty, dogs and dear friends.
Her new memoir, “What Comes Next and How to Like It,” is plain-spoken and wise. Her chapters are brief (some just a paragraph, none longer than three pages), but they feel complete and full. She says what she means and no more. (But she says it beautifully.)
Thomas is in her 70s now, and she writes with generosity and sense about her best friend’s betrayal, her husband’s tragic accident (the focus of her 2007 memoir, “A Three Dog Life”), her daughter’s cancer, her old dogs dying and new dogs joining the pack.
She smokes too much and can’t quit; she drinks too much (and does quit). She naps too much, depression and fatigue pulling her under. She is growing forgetful and tired. She makes brisk rules for herself: “Get dressed immediately, that’s key … do not get into bed ‘for a minute’ even though the dogs are looking at you hopefully. Remember, you are not a dog.”
Death stalks this book, but it is not a depressing read; Thomas wants to understand death, come to terms with its inevitability. ‘I want to make Death a member of my family. I don’t want it to arrive as a stranger.'” More…
The Boston Globe
By Kate Tuttle
March 29, 2015
“Abigail Thomas wrote novels first — three of them, deftly wrought stories that were funny and sad in equal measure — but it is as a memoirist that she may be remembered. In “Safekeeping” and “A Three Dog Life,” Thomas told her own true stories, alternately wise and witty, of love and loss. Here, in her third memoir, she returns to topics of motherhood, romance, and friendship (as well as dogs, cocktails, and art), but against the backdrop of her big, messy, complicated life she highlights one particular narrative: her longtime relationship with her best friend, Chuck, a man 10 years her junior.
“I am aware of my cavalier attitude toward men,” Thomas writes. “I wittily describe them as single-celled organisms.” But she doesn’t feel this way about her son or grandsons, or her late husband, or Chuck, to whom this book is very much a love letter. “I don’t think of Chuck in a sexual way,” she adds, allowing that “sometimes there is something in the air that adds spice to conversation.” A nearly unforgivable betrayal in the middle of their long friendship somehow didn’t end it — in fact, Thomas writes, “We have built something sturdy out of the wreckage” — and it’s this spirit of stalwart love and loyalty that makes Thomas’s work so moving.” More…
Los Angeles Times
Hard-won wisdom in Abigail Thomas’ ‘What Comes Next and How to Like It’
By David L. Ulin
Los Angeles Times Book Critic
“There’s a sneaky sharpness to Abigail Thomas’ “What Comes Next and How to Like It” that makes itself apparent only deep into the book. Framed as a follow-up to her 2006 memoir, “A Three Dog Life,” it is more a series of short reflections — some as brief as a single sentence — on aging and mortality, infused with her signature sense of mordancy and wit.
Where “A Three Dog Life” dealt with the decline and death of Thomas’ third husband, Rich, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car near their home in upper Manhattan, “What Comes Next and How to Like It” first seems like a day book, meandering from the author’s new-found fascination with painting to her love for her dogs and the joy and rigor of being a single mother to four adult children and their various kids and partners.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Thomas tells her friend Chuck, a literary agent. “… What book am I writing? … The one about the three of us?”
“The three of us,” it turns out, are Thomas, Chuck and Thomas’ youngest daughter, Catherine, with whom Chuck once had an affair. “It couldn’t have been anybody else’s daughter,” Chuck says by way of explanation, although can any explanation be enough?” More…
Los Angeles Review of Books
Writing is Key
Dinah Lenney interviews Abigail Thomas
March 24, 2015
“HERE’S THE THING — the amazing thing — about reading Abigail Thomas (I’m thinking of her memoirs, though she’s also the author of a novel and two story collections): you’re likely to come away with this idea that it’s a wonderful life. In fact, I defy you to spend the afternoon with Thomas and not hope for an invitation to dinner (she’s evidently a great cook) — after all, your host is warm, confiding, hilarious, wise, generous, and never boring. As for her world — it’s full-flavored — full of interesting places and people and art and feeling and moment and thought.” More…
Interviewed by Alex Layman
March 24, 2015
“What can come?” Abigail Thomas’s young grandson asks when told not to venture into the woods at night. What can come? Thomas is struck by the sincere, poignant inquiry. “Can is scarier than will,” she writes, not to provide an answer, but to explain her familiarity with the question.“What will come limits itself. What can come has no boundaries.” For Thomas, what can and has come has indeed seemed limitless.
Focusing mostly on her life in context to a 35-year relationship with her best friend Chuck, What Comes Next and How to Like It is a collection of vignettes that together tell a story of friendship, impending mortality, and finding happiness beyond hardship. Readers of Thomas’ previous memoir, A Three Dog Life, a story about rebuilding her life after a car strikes her husband and his brain is irreparably damaged, know she is no stranger to hardship. More…
A Review of Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It
By Amye Archer
March 17, 2015
“I first read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping as a new mother, my belly still plump, my babies still purple, and my world still so vulnerable and tenuous. In Thomas’ beautiful memoir, I found someone who understood these things, the difficulties of becoming someone’s mother and someone’s wife, while still unsure of your very self. Safekeeping was the right book at the right time for me in so many ways, and with Thomas’ new memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, I found that same understanding and reassurance at-once again-the exact right moment.” More…
“Irreverent, wise, and boundlessly generous.”—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
“A keenly observed memoir…[Thomas] writes of the changes aging brings us all and of coping through love: of family, dogs, a well-turned phrase. She is superb company.”—People (NOT ONLINE)
Huff Post Books
Abigail Thomas on Why She Hopes This Is Her Last Memoir
Brief Interview by Annie L. Scholl
March 17, 2015
How do you feel as the launch of your new memoir approaches?
A little apprehensive. It’s always a little scary. I guess since Three Dog Life was kind of successful, I’m actually hoping for success, which is something I’ve never felt before. But I’m looking forward to it. It matters a lot to me, this book. It took so long to write–seven years!
Why do you think it took you so long to write it?
I wrote it every which way and I just couldn’t get it. And then when I thought I’d gotten it right, it was only half a book. Then my daughter, Catherine, got cancer and I couldn’t write at all. She had been part of the original story, but I couldn’t face her diagnosis, at least not head-on. One day my dog, Daphne, stole Catherine’s favorite wig and darted through the dog door with it. This gave me a way of writing not just about her cancer, but also many other things that I hadn’t faced before. More…
How We Deal With Loss In Different Ways In Two Beautifully Written Memoirs
Review by Maureen Corrigan
March 12, 2015
Reviews of Other Books
“A Three Dog Life is, I think, the best memoir I have ever read. It’s sad, terrifying, and scorchingly honest. It’s also a testament to the power of love, suggesting that even when love isn’t enough…somehow, it is. This book is a punch to the heart. Read it.”
“Abigail Thomas navigates a life redefined by ambiguous loss—a beloved husband who ‘is there and not there.’ She makes sense of mangled senses where a new logic is encoded; she lets mystery stand where translation is not possible. Her many gifts as a writer and deeply generous person show us what is possible when two brave people examine a reconfigured life—one that conjures the uncanny, spotlights the power of art, and amplifies the meaning and reach of love.”
“Abigail Thomas is a brilliant writer whose stories and memoirs I have loved for a long time. Now she has written a brilliant book about creating stories and memoirs, that is also a kind of memoir, rich with stories that made me sigh, laugh, wince with recognition, and actually even want to write. It is beautiful, charming, funny, painful, and will be of indescribable value and inspiration to anyone who wants to write anything.”
Abigail Thomas’s new book, Thinking About Memoir was published by Sterling, April 2008.
A THREE DOG LIFE IS NOW AVAILABLE IN SOFTCOVER
A Three Dog Life was selected as one of the Best Books of 2006 by the LA Times and the Washington Post
“Astonishing…an extraordinary, and horrific, love story” Entertainment Weekly
“Bracingly honest” Vanity Fair
“Perfectly honed” Newsweek
“Startling” O, The Oprah Magazine
“Stunning” Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A high plain of true inspiration” Booklist