Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

A Three Dog Life is absolutely one of the most appropriately written memoirs about tragedy I've ever read.

Not that I'm an expert on memoirs about tragedy. Far from it. But I know well enough that they are generally unbearably sad, that they make me think fearfully about all the horrible possibilities, and that they're often not uplifting. I don't want to be willfully ignorant, but I also don't want to be unnecessarily depressed. I don't want to avoid the mere mention of tragedy, but I don't want it to consume my thoughts when it hasn't even happened to me (yet).

Abigail Thomas does a beautiful job of gently guiding readers to an understanding of her own tragic experience. At the time of the memoir's writing, Thomas's husband had recently been in a car accident that had caused major brain injuries. He's so unlike himself that he can't even live with her anymore; Thomas has no choice but to put him in a care facility. He has frequent personality changes, often turning against his wife and being suspicious of her. Visiting him is an emotional roller coaster.

In this book, Thomas confronts the difficulties of life--life with her husband, and life without him. Yet she also recognizes, beautifully, that life goes on. Not that she somehow "rises above" her misfortunes and gets saintly or preachy about it. But she continues to live her life. This book is about her experience, but it's also about the little moments in life that are still happy, even with everything that's happened. This isn't really a book about the accident; it's a book about life after the accident. A new life, albeit one that wasn't ever wanted, but still, it's new, and there's a beauty, or at least an interest, in the newness. It's about dealing with the tragedy, but also dealing with everyday life, as we all must do.

Like with lots of other books I read lately, I find that what I appreciated most about this book was just how it made me feel, as cliche as that might sound. It made me reflective, not depressed. It made me appreciative or what I have, not fearful that I'll lose it. A Three Dog Life does exactly what I think every memoir about tragedy should do: face reality without losing hope.

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