A Review of Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It
March 17, 2015 § 4 Comments
by Amye Archer
I first read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping as a new mother, my belly still plump, my babies still purple, and my world still so vulnerable and tenuous. In Thomas’ beautiful memoir, I found someone who understood these things, the difficulties of becoming someone’s mother and someone’s wife, while still unsure of your very self. Safekeeping was the right book at the right time for me in so many ways, and with Thomas’ new memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, I found that same understanding and reassurance at-once again-the exact right moment.
What Comes Next is the story of a lifelong friendship between the author and Chuck, a man we come to respect as Thomas’ equal if not soul-mate. However, as with every book Thomas writes, this is a story of deep reflection and self-examination of herself as a mother, friend, writer, and most importantly woman. The narrative is comprised of three main threads: the author’s friendship with Chuck, her daughter’s devastating diagnosis and subsequent battle with cancer, and finally, Thomas’ remarkable insight into aging-gracefully. These threads are punctuated with stories of Thomas discovering a new passion for painting, and of course, there are the beloved dogs.
What I’ve always admired about Abigail Thomas is her ability to articulate the nuance of femininity in all of its states, including the most important state of all: as fallible beings. In What Comes Next, Thomas speaks openly of her divorce and the effect it had on her young children, “I talked about what happened to my children when I got divorced, and I got upset, remembering how they had suffered…Then I burst into tears.” On love, “Every now and again I’m afraid Chuck will fall in love with somebody and I will lose him. This comes from the worst part of myself, the possessive part.” Always frank, always honest, always pure. There is much introspection in these pages, hard-fought truths for which Thomas has battled bravely. She must forgive those who’ve wronged her, she must quit smoking, and she must give up the drinking for which she has become too fond. Thomas’ ability to shine her light on the darkest parts of herself endear her to the reader. We trust her, and wherever she goes, we follow.
What Comes Next is full of heart, passion, and a great sense of comfort as we, the reader, realize that in the end-everything will be okay. We are left with the belief that family, friendships, feuds, pets, grandchildren, all of these things that comprise our shared human experience will endure. And in some cases, things will be better. After a disappointing dating experience Thomas writes, “But being seventy has its advantages. I did not spend any time wondering what I’d done wrong, or what I could or should have done differently, whether I was too old or too fat or ask too many questions. I am who I am and it has taken me a long time to get here.”
As with Safekeeping, What Comes Next was the right book for me at the right time, but I’m beginning to think this is not a coincidence. I think anyone would do well to read any book by Thomas at any time. Some memoirists write their experience. Abigail Thomas has an uncanny ability to write our experience.
Amye Archer has an MFA from Wilkes University and blogs at www.thefatgirlblog.com.