If Abigail Thomas (A Three Dog Life) put the experiences that she writes about in her memoir What Comes Next and How to Like It into a piece of fiction, readers might find it difficult to believe the story. However, as incredible as they may seem, Thomas did live through a bizarre series of events, which began when she discovered her long-time friend Chuck, a man she'd known and worked with off and on again for 35 years, was having an affair with her daughter, Catherine. To add to the strangeness, she waited a month to tell her husband and, a week after that, he went to walk the dog, was hit by a car, suffered traumatic brain injuries and never recovered. Not only did Thomas lose her spouse, but she no longer had her best friend Chuck to turn to in her grief, or any sense of connection to her daughter throughout that difficult period.
Time did eventually soothe the anger and betrayal she felt toward Chuck. Their subsequent reconciliation after her husband's death, based on their enduring friendship, plays a large part in the narrative Thomas so eloquently and honestly reveals.
These snippets of prose are full of love, humor, anger and a certain amount of uncertainty as Thomas ponders what life really is all about and what happens after one dies. Long after the affair is water under the bridge and she has reconnected with Chuck and her daughter, Thomas approaches Chuck for wisdom on how to live with uncertainty. She writes, "'I'm afraid of people I love dying before I do. I need to find a way to live with that. I need to come to some conclusion. Words to live by or something. A mantra."
"Death is both a certainty and an unknown," Chuck says. "It's hard to get a grip on it." These happen to be just the words that allow something to click inside Thomas, who has struggled all her life with indecision and a variety of vices, including smoking and alcohol.
Intertwined with these reflections on living life and facing the unknown are commentaries on painting on glass using oil-based paints, Thomas's interactions with her dogs and the grief she felt when they died, and the range of emotions she felt when Catherine was diagnosed with a serious illness.
Although most of these passages are very short and read almost like journal entries, the overall picture Thomas conveys is that of the deep, soul-level relationships that exist between her and her family and with Chuck, connections that make all the highs and lows of life livable. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Shelf Talker: Short essays from the author of A Three Dog Life reveal the variables of living a life full of love, laughter, heartache and pain.