What comes next and how to like it : a memoir /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Thomas, Abigail, author.
Edition:First Scribner hardcover edition.
Imprint:New York : Scribner, 2015.
Description:224 pages ; 22 cm
Subject:Thomas, Abigail.
Thomas, Abigail.
Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
Authors, American.
Format: Print Book
URL for this record:http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/10145016
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Review by New York Times Review

TWO PAGES into her third memoir, "What Comes Next and How to Like It," Abigail Thomas tells us that "I don't know anyone's story except my own and I don't even know that." That coy little torque of paradox, the would-be wisdom and confessional pride of the serial memoirist, is a constant throughout this short book, much more so than in its predecessors. In Thomas's first memoir, "Safekeeping," she wrote of being married three times, of having four children, of the death of her father and her second ex-husband, and about meeting her third husband, Rich. In "A Three Dog Life," a moving encounter with grief, we learned about the traffic accident that left the unfortunate Rich brain damaged and cared for in a nursing home. We learned that Thomas had an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Woodstock and, eventually, three dogs. Disappointingly, in spite of her intimate, confiding air, we do not learn where this kind of money came from. Now Thomas tells us that "I call myself a writer, but I am stone lazy," and, indeed, she whiles away page after page with fiddling matters of daily existence. "Nothing is wasted when you are a writer," she says, and writes about thinking about picking an apple, about where her dogs sleep, about finding a snail. She offers thoughts on beds, a broken dishwasher and on the nature of forgiveness. ("What is forgiveness anyway? It seems to me the only person you can forgive is yourself.") She tells us about the time she found some old marshmallows, made macaroni and cheese, and tried to stop smoking. She tells us about her dreams and that people love her writing. She confesses that when she worked for a publishing house, she rejected manuscripts of possible promise because she didn't feel like reading them all the way through. She lists five famous people whose names she always forgets and describes her method of painting, including how to paint a moon: "All I want is a big round moon because it's the best I can do, and because it does not involve knowing how to paint, only how to hold a stick still while the paint drips off, and because I love the way it looks." THOMAS SWAPS THAT faux-naif tone on occasion for one of anger or fear. Amid the random observations, three painful matters gain precedence. The first is Thomas's decades-long friendship with a man named Chuck and its near extinction by her discovery that he has had an affair with her youngest daughter, Catherine. It's a slap in the face as she sees it, a galling affront, and one from which her relationship with Chuck (which, characteristically, she sees as connecting herself with herself) only slowly recovers. The second issue is Catherine's bout with an aggressive cancer and subsequent chemotherapy and radiation. Here, one feels genuine sympathy for Catherine - and, at last, her mother. The third and overarching matter of concern is death itself. Thomas, in her 70s, is stunned by the idea that the world will go on without her and that her own children, too, will grow old and die. It's monstrous. "I hate chronological order," she says, reducing life to just that: "The thought that this happened and then this happened and then this and this and this, the relentless march of event and emotion tied together simply because day follows day and turns into week following week becoming months and years reinforces the fact that the only logical ending for chronological order is death." This may be how she actually sees things, or, more likely, it is merely a writerly conceit, but, either way, it is a paltry species of nihilism. She tells us about the times she found some old marshmallows, made macaroni and cheese, and tried to stop smoking. KATHERINE A. POWERS received the 2013 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle and is the editor of "Suitable Accommodations : The Letters of J.F. Powers, 1942-1963."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [April 5, 2015]
Review by New York Times Review