This book is short. I bet you could read it in an evening, on the bus or the train if you commute. You could read a little bit just before you go to bed, smile at your sleeping spouse, if you are lucky enough to have one. Or read it to your dog in bed if you are single with a dog. One of the joys of single living Ms Thomas discovers, is that no body cares if she piles all three dogs in bed with her. I agree. The upside to tragedy is finding new ways to do things.
Each chapter is very self contained. You can read one, put the book down for a while, and not get too confused when you rejoin it. You actually don't even have to read the chapters in order, although they seem to flow better that way. The book itself is bond as small, even the hard copy could easily slip into a purse or briefcase. The book is moving and full of beautiful prose. If you haven't read a well written book in a while, try this. Fine writing is a dying art. The book is moving, it displays loyalty and grace in everyday people.


If there are any cons, they are certainly not the fault of Ms Thomas. It is a shame that because she was not more famous celebrity before the accident the book can not be cross referenced in some more well seen genre. It is a shame because the subject matter is serious some people may hesitate to read it. It is a shame this book isn't required reading in every high school in lieu of "Catcher in Rye." Young people make heroes out of sports figures and singers, and many other people who really haven't done much to make us admire them. The woman in this book stands by her husband. She cares for him, physically and emotionally. She's really different from the kind of people who so glibly dump their spouses.

Full Review

A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas is a compelling memoir by a woman writer whose life is changed forever. One day, not long after getting a little dog, her husband is horribly injured in an accident. He suffers brain trauma. His frontal lobes are damaged. His personality changes. His sense of time is lost. His perception is altered. Although at first she attempts to care for him at home, his anxiety and confusion make this impossible. Unable to care for him alone, she must put him in an institution. This is a love story, a story of survival, a story of a marriage and a story of personal growth. Having been a professional writer before the accident makes Ms Thomas a compelling narrator of difficult events.

She writes that "A Three Dog Night" refers to a very cold night, where three dogs are necessary for warmth. And beyond the metaphor, she ends up adopting two more dogs after the accident, living with a high degree of satisfaction with her three companions. Anyone who has been divorced can relate to her carving out a life for herself. Less easy to imagine is the slipping in and out of her husband's life. She loves him. She visits him at the institution where he lives, she brings him home for visits, she in no way wishes to have a boyfriend. She speaks of the past as being "sawed off" the future, too difficult to imagine, she rests in the Now.

Before my husband left me I never even had to put gas in my car. He took car of everything. Ms Thomas, in one chapter, relates a car accident. How badly she wanted to have her husband back, the way he took care of things like that for her, but that was no longer an option. She finds it not impossible to make some calls her self and handle the situation. Its annoying, its scary, but she intimates a level of firm satisfaction on having "handled it." As do we all, the first time we get faced with a similar challenge. I enjoyed being able to relate to her. I thought from the description of what happened to her, she would be more of a "superwoman" but she's not. She's like anybody. She's like one of us.

Not all of the chapters are on the nuts and bolts of the accident, but some are. It is hard to imagine a worse scene than seeing your nearest and dearest covered in blood, rushed in an ambulance to a hospital. She speaks of being haunted by that image. We feel for her. Its awful. The reality of waiting through long surgeries is described. The scar tissue on the brain, the fears of infection. Its rough, and may never stabilize. Yet she still manages to snatch chunks of Now that have a brave purity. You don't envy her life, and yet, you have to admire her capacity to love. You have to wonder what it would feel like to be loved by someone like that, someone loyal, unselfish, true.

This book is not a downer. It is filled with object lessons in hope. I could recommend it to anyone who has a spouse suffering from some illness, or injured in an accident. I would recommend it also so anyone who was divorced and trying to figure out how to go it alone. How to re-center. And in fact I would even recommend this book to someone lucky in life, married well, financially ok, just as a reality check on how quickly things can change. Life is fragile. Life is short. Life is full of strange changes. Can we ever even guess how flexible or inflexible we might be before we are actually tested? I think not.

In Closing

This book is sad and terrifying and honest. This book is beautiful and hopeful. This book is realistic and sharp. I think you should read it.