“A Three Dog Life” by Abigail Thomas
Here’s a memoir that truly is poignant (a word very much overused). When a teacher assigns memoir reading, ask if you can read “A Three Dog Life.” It’s short at 182 pages—many teachers here require a minimum of 200—but has more to offer than many much longer works. Point out to your teacher that the writing is wonderful, exactly the type that English teachers want you to be exposed to. The figurative language is quite simply lovely.
The author, Abigail Thomas, marries her third husband when she is 46 and he is 57. She describes him as the nicest man in the world, and they live together for thirteen years. Their lives crack open one day when Abigail learns that her dog, Harry, is in the apartment building elevator by himself. Where is her husband, Rich?
The tragic answer is that Rich has been hit by a car while going after Harry, whose leash had broken. Rich suffers a traumatic brain injury and it’s permanent. This nicest man in the world then has short-term memory loss, hallucinations, and becomes paranoid and violent. I expected here to have a story about what a drag Abigail’s life became—or a rationale for why she had to divorce her husband, as he must be hospitalized due to his rages. But no. Thomas discusses how she moved from her Manhattan apartment in order to be closer to her husband. Rather than seeing herself as a martyr, she shows the reader what is still good in her life. She records the strange and beautiful way her husband speaks and finds that, though he never put any stock in such things, he now has a sixth sense that surfaces under the strangest circumstances.
The title is based on the idea of a ‘three dog night’—a night so cold that one has to cuddle with three dogs in order to survive. (I actually knew this because when I was very young, a popular band was named Three Dog Night!) And in the course of her years after Rich’s accident, Abigail does acquire two more dogs. Thomas wrote another memoir that discusses the death of her second husband entitled “Safekeeping.” At present, we don’t have it in our library, but it appears to contain the same wonderful writing and lucid understanding of life’s foibles, so I’ll try to get (afford) it.