April 10, 2016

What Comes Next and How to Like It

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
Nonfiction - Memoir
2015 Scribner
Finished on January 4, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Paperback edition available April 19, 2016

Dogs don't wake up on the wrong side of the bed. There is no wrong side of the bed for a dog.

Publisher's Blurb:

What comes next? Readers who loved Abigail Thomas's memoir A Three Dog Life have been wondering. Abigail herself has wondered. What comes after the devastating loss of her husband? What form does a lifelong friendship take after certain lines are crossed? How does a mother cope with her daughter's serious illness? Or the death of a beloved dog?

And how to like it? How to accept, appreciate, enjoy? How to find solace, and pleasure? What will we do for our most trusted, valuable companions?

What comes Next and How to Like It is an extraordinarily moving memoir about many things, but at the center is the friendship between Abigail Thomas and a man she met thirty-five years ago. Through marriages, child raising, and the vicissitudes and tragedies of life, this deep, rich bond has sustained her.

What Comes Next and How to Like It is the best work yet by a woman who has already done some of the best work in the field. It's about friendship, and the shocks friendship can endure when it's true and deep. It's about the rueful pleasures (not to mention the jarring pitfalls) of getting old, and about enduring tragedy, sickness, and loss. Thomas speaks of these big things by scattering the ordinary jewelry of everyday life: loving dogs (even when they chew your most precious possessions), Googling old boyfriends, making a killer macaroni and cheese. Small speaks for large here, in a calm voice that talks to the mind while it fills the heart. So much of this book's wisdom is between the lines and in the white spaces. It may only take you two days to read, but the impact will stay with you for a long, long time. Abigail Thomas fills memory with living breath. ~ Stephen King

It's been almost nine years since I read A Three Dog Life, a wonderful memoir which I loved and look forward to reading again. I was thrilled to get an ARC of Thomas's latest book last fall and saved it for the holiday season, since I knew it was the sort of book I could pick up here and there, maybe reading a few pages every night. I marked so many passages and have enjoyed flipping through the book a second time as I compose this review.

On Aging & Memory: 
I have a bad memory. I have been trying to remember being young, which is hard because I don't feel old until I try to get up from my chair. Or when I look at the photograph Jennifer took of me sitting on a stool next to her twins, and really, from the back, it looks as if I have an open umbrella concealed under my skirt. How did that happen? I think, but, oh well, I was young once and slender and pretty and I made the most of it. It's somebody else's turn now.
On Grief & Memory:
I don't worry about my husband, the worst that could happen to him already happened. He was hit by a car in April of 2000, and sustained permanent brain damage. Seven years later, January 1, 2007, he died. Grief is different from worry. I don't want to remember what it was like before, eating muffins and reading the paper together on the porch. I don't want to remember him planting the wild grasses that he loved, or the way he smiled at me, or his generous heart. I don't want to remember walking down Broadway holding hands. I am still shocked by what happened. I am used to never getting used to it. But grief overtakes me in the coffee aisle, or sweeping the porch, or smiling at the dogs, catching me unaware. Grief is not a pleasure, but it makes me remember, and I am grateful.
On Being an Old Lady:
All of which leads me to wonder what kind of old lady I will be. I'm already well past middle age unless I plan to live to 136, and a student recently described me as a "nice old lady with a tattoo," which startled me because I think of myself as not nice, not old, nor a lady. Didn't she see me smoking? and downing shots of tequila? Not to mention all the flirting that went on between me and that nice man to whom I took an instant liking? I don't feel like an old lady unless this is how an old lady feels.
On Forgetting:
I am becoming the kind of old lady who puts her lipstick on crooked and wears too much blush--of whom when she wakes in the morning and goes downstairs to make coffee, her daughter says, "Mom, you look crazy," and it's only partly because of her hair, which sticks up in bunches like feathers. The kind of old woman who can't remember the word "pastels" speaking of the chalk you draw with and forgets where she put her bag her keys her glasses her book but can remember Steve Buscemi's name and two of his movies: Con Air and Fargo.
On the Wrong Side of the Bed:
Here's what I love about dogs. They aren't careful not to disturb you. They don't overthink. They jump on the bed or the sofa or the chair and plop down. They come and they go. I'm not sure they love me exactly, but they count on me because I am a source of heat and food and pleasure and affection. If one of them is lying next to me and suddenly prefers the sofa, I don't take it personally. Dogs don't wake up on the wrong side of the bed. There is no wrong side of the bed for a dog.

There are so many other passages to share, but I don't want to reveal the entire book!

Photograph by Jennifer Waddell

Final Thoughts:

I loved this memoir! It can easily be read in a day, but I chose to take my time, savoring Thomas's honest views on life as a mother, wife, grandmother and friend. It was the perfect book to read during the holidays since some of the chapters are only a page, a paragraph, or even a sentence in length. I could read a few pages here and there and not let the distractions of life interfere with my enjoyment, as they might if I had been reading a novel. This is one to read over and over again!

Go here to read my review on A Three Dog Life.


  1. Sounds like a very nice memoir Les. I do enjoy a good memoir.

    1. Diane, I can't tell you how much I loved this book! Now I'm eager to go back and reread A Three Dog Life.

  2. Anonymous7:12 PM

    I read A Three Dog Life a few years ago. I enjoyed those quotes and will be looking for this book also, so thank you!

    1. Rita, wasn't A Three Dog Life a wonderful book?! I'm glad you enjoyed the quotes I shared. Hope you enjoy the new book!

  3. She sounds a bit like your mother! The wild hair and forgetting the names of things...........

    1. Mom, I'm getting there, too! :)


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