A Three Dog Life

A Three Dog Life

by Abigail Thomas

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When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156033060
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 02/01/2007
Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 20,647
File size: 338 KB

About the Author

ABIGAIL THOMAS is the author of Safekeeping, a memoir, as well as a novel and two story collections. She lives in Woodstock, New York, and teaches at the New School.

Read an Excerpt


What Stays the Same

This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt. Everything else changes. A grandson needs me and then he doesn’t. My children are close then one drifts away. I smoke and don’t smoke; I knit ponchos, then hats, shawls, hats again, stop knitting, start up again. The clock ticks, the seasons shift, the night sky rearranges itself, but my husband remains constant, his injuries are permanent. He grounds me. Rich is where I shine. I can count on myself with him.

I live in a cozy house with pretty furniture. Time passes here. There is a fireplace and two acres and the dogs run around and dig big holes and I don’t care. I have a twenty-seven-inch TV and lots of movies. The telephone rings often. Rich is lodged in a single moment and it never tips into the next. Last week I lay on his bed in the nursing home and watched him. I was out of his field of vision and I think he forgot I was there. He stood still, then he picked up a newspaper from a neat pile of newspapers, held it a moment, and carefully put it back. His arms dropped to his sides. He looked as if he was waiting for the next thing but there is no next thing.

I got stuck with the past and future. That’s my half of this bad hand. I know what happened and I never get used to it. Just when I think I’ve metabolized everything I am drawn up short. "Rich lost part of his vision" is what I say, but recently Sally told the nurse, "He is blind in his right eye," and I was catapulted out of the safety of the past tense into the now.

Today I drive to the wool store. I arrive with my notebook open and a pen.

"What are you doing?" Paul asks.

"I’m taking a poll," I say. "What is the one thing that stays stable in your life?"

"James," says Paul instantly.

"And I suppose James will say Paul," I say, writing down James.

"No, he’ll say the dogs," says Paul, laughing.

"Creativity," says Heidi, the genius.

"I have to think," says a woman I don’t know.

"The dogs," says James.

Rich and I had a house together once. He was the real gardener. He raked and dug, planted and weeded, stood over his garden proudly. Decorative grasses were his specialty. He cut down my delphiniums when he planted his fountain grass. "Didn’t you see them?" I asked. "They were so tall and beautiful." But he was too busy digging to listen. I lost interest in flowers. We planted a hydrangea tree outside the kitchen window. We cut down (after much deliberation) two big prickly bushes that were growing together like eyebrows at either side of our small path. We waited until the birds were done with their young, then Rich planted two more hydrangea trees where the bushes had stood. I don’t want to see how big they are by now, how beautiful their heavy white blossoms look when it rains. "I love what you’ve done with the garden," my friend Claudette says, looking at the bed of overgrown nettles in my backyard. I weeded there exactly once. I want to plant fountain grass out there, but first I need a backhoe.

Rich and I don’t have the normal ups and downs of a marriage. I don’t get impatient. He doesn’t have to figure out what to do with his retirement. I don’t watch him go through holidays with the sorrow of missing his absent children. Last week we were walking down the hall to his room, it was November, we had spent the afternoon together. "If I wasn’t with you and we weren’t getting food, the dark would envelop my soul," he said cheerfully.

He never knows I’m leaving until I go.
Copyright © 2006 by Abigail Thomas

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


Table of Contents

"What Stays the Same"—currently with Dan Jones
"Accident"-- published in "O"
"Home"--published in "O"
"Comfort" –published in Dog is My Co-Pilot, Bark Anthology
"Surprises" –not placed serially
"Magnificent Frigate Bird" –published in Tin House
"Learning To Live Alone" –published in Self
"How to Break up a Dog Fight" –not placed serially
"Dog Talk" –published in Bark
"How to Banish Melancholy" –to be published in Women’s Best Friend, Seal Press Anthology
"Carolina’s in Heat" –published in Bark
"For Now" –not placed serially
"Filling What’s Empty" –published in Tin House
"NO" –currently with Dan Jones
"Guilt" –published in Subtropics
"Edward Butterman Sleeps At Home" –not placed serially
"Knitting 2002 to Present" –to be published in Swivel
"Outsider Art" –not placed serially
"Running" –not placed serially
"Past, Present, Future" –excerpt to be published in Real Simple
"Moving" –published on Mister Beller’s Neighborhood
"Five Years" –not placed serially

Customer Reviews

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A Three Dog Life 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
nestlesbes More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this book. Her husband's accident was certainly tragic, but she manages to keep up her humorous side and take each situation as it comes - in some ways, kind of magically. At times I felt sad but other times absolutely laughed out loud, especially when she relates to her dogs. Our four-legged friends are so important in keeping us going and enjoying our lives, no matter the turns it takes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would say this book would be highly recommended for anyone that has someone close in their life with a mental disabilty due to an accident, dementia, etc. Abigail Thomas lets her feelings out. She is real. I could feel the author's ups and downs with her mentally challenged husband. A must read for people that are experiencing these emotions with a loved one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is only 112 pages!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes I got the book cause it was on sale on the Title caight my eye. I am so glad I got this book. It was a good book and shows us how we never know what is going to happen in life. Hope others will have a chance to read and they like it just like I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is that really how this book ends... I stop at 112 pages and it seems like there should be more...
colorsplash7 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. As it is not my usual genre I wasn't sure I would....but I am becoming more fond of memoirs and this was a good one. By the time I was done with this book I wish my life had intersected with hers. She seemed like someone I would like to know. The story was well-written and I enjoyed her descriptions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book many years ago as my grandmother began to deteriorate mentally. This book helped me in dealing with this change in our family. Ms. Thomas is very open about how her husband's accident changed her life and the struggles she went through. I highly recommend this book.
callienzoie More than 1 year ago
at times ms. thomas is laugh-out-loud funny and other times my heart aches b/c of her pain and grief. an excellent read!!!! hard to put it down so i could go to sleep at 3 a.m. i have put her other books on my wishlist, can't wait to read those:). love the cover w/ her on the couch w/ the dogs, what great dogs to have for a three dog life.
bmhafe More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up by random and found it was just what I needed at the time. Looking at someone elses struggles and the things they are going through helps those of us who are in caregiver positions, and this is what the book was all about, fighting the struggle to care for a loved one while still maintaining your own identity. Abigail Thomas is a brillant author and I appreciate the courage and struggle she went through to write this novel and help others in the process. Excellent job!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This little book is so full of the isms of life: courage, sadness, wonder, kindness, love, acceptance, exploration, and on and on. I could not put the book down and read it in one sitting. It just fullfilled me with appreciation for life.
leila_summers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging, sad, raw, honest, and at times, even witty. I enjoyed the author's writing style. Scattered thoughts are typically what happens in reality after such a tragedy. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one in any way, you may find yourself physically nodding along at times in understanding.
PaperbackPirate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold nights, the coldest being a 'three dog night.' - Wikipedia"So begins A Three Dog Life, but it has as much to do with dogs as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It's a memoir written by a woman whose husband gets hit by a car and becomes a new man because of traumatic brain injury, and how she copes.One of my favorite chapters taught me about Outsider Art, which is basically art made by people with no formal training, but was originally a term reserved for the art made by insane-asylum inmates. Abigail begins collecting Outsider Art made by the residents of the rehabilitation center her husband is at who have also suffered brain trauma, almost obsessively. She then seeks out Outsider Art made by people with brain injuries in galleries. She discovers there is an Outsider Art Fair and goes. She also shares descriptions of her own husband's art.I was fascinated by the fractured conversations she shared with her husband, especially the ones that made sense even when they weren't supposed to. She talked about how one time her friend got a new dog and brought it over for a play date. The dogs were all running around the house, barking like crazy and being silly, making the author and her friend laugh and laugh. Suddenly the phone rang. It was her husband calling from the rehabilitation center (a few miles away) asking if she could keep the dogs quiet!The book is generally anecdotal. I wouldn't recommend this book to most people because many of the chapters were sad and some were just uninteresting (there's a chapter where she tells us what's in her refrigerator). However, I think people who have loved others who have dealt with brain trauma will find this book comforting. My friend's dad suffered from a stroke and hasn't been the same since. Some of the things she's told me about him reminded me of the man in this book. I suggested she read A Three Dog Life and she told me she had already read it and liked it very much.
Brianna_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Three Dog Life derives its title from the Australian aborigines who slept with their dogs for warmth; the coldest nights being ¿three dog nights¿. Abigail¿s husband¿s traumatic brain injury places her in the most difficult time of her life. The warmth and love from her three beloved dogs comfort her, hence her three dog life. This new life is one that she has to build on her own; different from any life she has lived before. Abigail navigates the unchartered waters of dealing with a husband in a nursing home, the guilt, sadness and welcomed freedom of living alone, and embarking on a new life journey with such perceptive insight that it simply took my breath away. Thomas¿ writing is sparse, plain, artful and so insightful that I feel that I could read anything about her or her life so long as she wrote it. Her self-awareness and ability to describe her thoughts and feelings is nothing short of brilliant. Most amazing is how she recounts her husband¿s newly acquired astuteness and his uncanny ability to hone in on exactly what she is thinking or exactly what is going on in her life without any way for him to obtain actual knowledge of these things. Rich¿s newfound ability is an unexplainable miracle. Reading this book changed the way that I view those suffering brain damage from a traumatic injury. I no longer see them as less than whole; they are just different ¿ altered- sometimes these changes bring about gifts not previously possessed. Rich¿s random comments show a gifted ability to describe his condition and a keen sense of self-awareness. Though his short-term memory loss may cause his inability to remember where he is or what he did five minutes ago, he is able to describe how he feels by saying, ¿I don¿t know who I am. Pretend you are walking up the street with your friend. You are looking in windows. But right behind you is a man with a huge roller filled with white paint and he is painting over everywhere you have been, erasing everything. He erased your friend. You don¿t even remember his name.¿This book is a gift to everyone who reads it. I will treasure it always and recommend it to everyone I know.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Memoir of a woman whose husband is hit by a car and sustains a TBI. This is her story moving forward with a husband that is forever damaged.
horomnizon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll admit that for the first third of the book or so, I was just sort of depressed and wondered why I was reading it....but Thomas' language and the way she tells these vignettes from her life after her husband is hit by a car. Her dogs are a great comfort to her, and she learns to adapt her life to what her husband has become.While my gut reaction was "this is depressing", by the end, her ability to cope with what has happened feels natural - not forced and overly happy, but real. Quite a good read, even for people not going through something like that themselves.
dawnlovesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
touching story of a wife dealing with her changed life after an accident leaves her husband permanently brain damaged.a few quotes that sum up the themes of the book for me:" an unexamined life may not be worth living, but the overexamined life is hell.""how great to be enjoying the ride, however uncertain the outcome.""we are all looking for the place we belong."
realbigcat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very touching memoir. I was drawn to the book by a comment of Steven King saying it was the best memoir he ever read. I wouldn't go that far but it is very good. The point is that don't take life for granted because when you least expect it, life jumps up and bites you. The authors husband is hit by a car and has a serious brain injury that ultimately requires him to stay in a nursing home permanately. It the struggles are brought upon from this situation that are the basis of her memoir. A very touching and mostly sad tale but I think people can easily relate and thats what keeps you reading. In her times of struggle she finds comfort in her three dogs. I would highly recommend this book as a touching story and a quick read.
emcnellis16 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life is not perfect. Tragedy can strike at any minute. How do you handle it when it happens to you? Thomas faces her tragedy with grace and poise. After her husband is injured in a horrific accident, Thomas begins the seemingly unending cycle of hospitals, doctors, and emergency calls. Eventually, Thomas realizes that, while Rich¿s life may remain in a state of limbo, her life must go on. She manages to find a balance between the wife she continues to be, and the woman who must now find meaning in her life -- on her own terms. She finds comfort with friends, family, and above all else her dogs. This is truly a story of love, loss, and ultimately ¿ healing.I applaud Thomas for her ability to stand by her husband under such devastating circumstances. Her memoir is honest and thought provoking -- sharing her feelings of fear, self-reproach, and even happiness. Her love for Rich is evident in her writing. A Three Dog Life is a true love story and a joy to read.
BONS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Non-fiction easy read of a difficult life altered by an accident resulting in authors husband's brain injury. Abigail's writing style is uniquely interesting, few words stated creatively but still very simply. As the story is told the burden is easy to feel through her words yet Abigail's comfort with her new life seems to be strength also. Rick's jumbled comments and views on situations he should know nothing about was nothing short of amazing.
brsquilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
coping with husband who has brain damage
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Abigail Thomas beautifully chronicles the process of discovery, disbelief, grief, hardship and then the realization that life must go on after a devasting accident which left her husband permanently brain damaged.Short chapters weave life before and after the devasting moment when her husband tried to save their dog and was hit by a car. Without self pity or self agrandizement, Thomas tells the story of courage and self discovery after reconciling the inexplicable fact that her husband will never recover. In a profoundly poignant, insightful manner, Thomas shares her journey to the institution where she witnesses both the shell of the vibrant person her husband once was deteriorate into a raving, hullicinating, angry and tramatized man and the small, short periods when he is lucid. When all around is out of control, Thomas finds solace in simple comforts such as three dogs, a cozy bed, soft snow, a warm fire, friends and family.I recommend this book. It isn't over the top dramatic, rather it is a beautifully written simple story of a very complicated situation.
splinfo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully poignant memoir. It is much more a story of resilience than tragedy but it is both. Highly recommended to anyone at any stage of life who has faced loss and the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness. At 182 pages, set aside a thoughtful day to read this or take it on a weekend away.
burnit99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A rather sweet and touching account of the years after Abigail Thomas' husband, Rich, is hit by a car and suffers a traumatic brain injury which has remade him in many ways. His days are spent in an institution, and his memory is a cratered landscape. He lives in the present only, and is prone to weirdly poetic observations. But Abigail is a constant in his life, and has learned how to remake her life even as Rich's has been remade for him.
klanzures on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You'll cry. It's a painful little number.
cms519 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. She captures the poetic thoughts her husband has in an amazing way.