Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A Three Dog Life" - a memoir by Abigail Thomas

I picked up this little gem at the Overlake Children’s Hospital Thrift Store.  I went in for Vintage dish towels.  Don’t ask me why.  OK, I'll tell you why.  I found some there on a foray for a white dish I could use for a food photography assignment.  One I gave myself.  An assignment that is.  I didn’t find the dish but I have a hard time leaving a store empty handed.  So I browsed until I found something.  It was the tea towels which I love and am using on food photos.  Photos I haven’t found a use for.  Except here I have: to show you why I bought the dish tea towels  The two towels clipped together were tagged at $2.50.  They had a pink price tag so that day I got to take 25% off that already thrilling price.   

So the next time I went in I went to see what they had in the kitchen linens rack and found nothing but, again dealing with my difficulty leaving a store empty handed, went by the used book shelves.  It was a good day.  I nabbed two tour books for New York.  I’m taking my sister there in June for her fiftieth birthday.  And this book.  A Three Dog Life, a memoir by Abigail Thomas. 

I love memoirs.  Someday I might write one.  Except I keep getting caught up in thinking that it may have to have a point and a good ending that wraps everything up nicely.  Then that gets me stuck.  But I do appreciate a good memoir.  Especially one that is written by someone who can simultaneously take something in their life that is their normal and make it intriguing to the observer they share it with.  I love the ones that are filled with profound tidbits discovered in the folding of clean sheets or taming a wild garden.  I really admire the writer who can transform a horrible situation into something with lots of laughter and “aha” moments.  Like Angela’s Ashes.  I remember when it first came out and I was reading it and loving it but when I went to describe it to someone who asked I felt like I had been caught burning insects with a magnifying glass in the sun.  “It’s a coming of age memoir of a boy growing up in the poverty of Post War Ireland.   His family is so poor they have to move upstairs when the ground floor floods.  They live up there, tons of kids to a bed. They can’t afford plumbing so share an outhouse with their neighbors in the alley behind.   Siblings die because they can’t get health care.  The father drinks away any money he ever makes so the kids have to steal apples and potatoes just to survive.  And they heat with coal so the kids have to spend their days following coal carts grabbing up anything that might fall off.  It’s such a beautiful, funny story.”   

In A Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas describes her life and relationship with her husband after he sustains a major brain injury.  She resigns herself to the fact that she couldn’t take care of him at home so moves him to a care center outside of New York City where they had lived together.  She eventually moves herself from the City to a small town nearer where he is housed.  There she is able to more easily visit him, even bringing him home for regular afternoon visits.  She finds sweetness in the person he has become since the accident and an acceptance of what life has dealt her.  She has brought two additional dogs into her life to join the first who was somewhat responsible for the accident that stole her husband’s memory capabilities.  She comes to terms with her life, overcomes her fears.  Comes to a brave acceptance of a past she cannot change and a future she cannot fathom so learns to live and find herself in the present in a lovely and admirable way.
Like the good memoirs I enjoy, there are lots of light moments in the midst of a heavy story and profound pronouncements of discovery in the everyday life.  I had never heard of this book and only put it in my basket because I liked the way it is bound (It’s a paperback but has thick velvet pages, slightly uneven on the unbound edge and extended cover flaps folded back that can easily be used as a bookmark.  I didn’t like the title: I am not by nature a dog story fan.  Or should I say not a fan of reading about people obsessed with their animals.  (Luckily this memoir did not turn out to be such a story).  But like I said, I was drawn to the feel of the book itself and a little note on the front cover: “The best memoir I have ever read. This book is a punch to the heart.  Read it.” – Stephen King.  A $2.00 price tag 15% discount, on luscious paper with a strong recommendation from a man who knows how to write.  It was something I could feel good about with my inability to leave the store empty handed.  If you can find it try it.  Or I’ll lend you my copy.  It’s a good read.
Interesting side note: in the preface I learned the origination of the well-known saying in the title.  That “Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold dog nights, the coldest being a “three dog night.”  It’s also the name of one of my first favorite bands to listen to in my own coming of age memoir.  The one I haven’t written yet.

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