Abigail Thomas has been writing and publishing for most of her adult life, which has been long. In this memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It (WCNAHTLI), she opens up about a variety of personal experiences.
It’s about her dogs, her children, her best friend, her late husband, and everyday life. She also writes about the difficult things—tragedy, betrayal, and how to find your way back.
Although this isn’t her first memoir, WCNAHTLI gives you a strong sense of her adult life. She’s been married, divorced, widowed, and is currently single. She’s got a passel of kids and grandkids, all of whom she loves deeply. And she has loved many hound dogs. Life has been marred by difficulty, but it soldiers on. As does Thomas.
But this book isn’t all sadness. She talks about what it’s like to be over 70 and desiring to take naps during the day. And the requisite guilty feelings. She talks about being a dog mom—a lot. About the changing of seasons, and her garden. About the writing workshops she holds each week.
More than anything, she talks about two specific shocks to her system. One is medical, and the second emotional. As you can imagine, they each affect Thomas and her whole family.
More than anything, it was the way Thomas writes this memoir that affected me. She creates very short chapters. Just as you start to sink into one’s story, she stops and shifts into another chapter. Over and over, I felt that sink and shift. And then I realized it’s just like life.
My calendar has blocks of color all over it. Each block lasts a short time, and then I shift to the next block. There aren’t many extended blocks of time dedicated to one thing. This is how Thomas’ writing structure felt to me—it was familiar.
I’ve always thought of memoir as a style with long paragraphs and chapters. I expect it to have logical chronology, at least for the most part. But Thomas builds her book without clear nods to any of that. Not all of her chapters and paragraphs are long. Her chronology is less than logical.
But Thomas’ style gave me hope. I have a file with over 2000 words (I just checked) about our oldest granddaughter. She died tragically in 2015 due to a car accident. Shortly afterwards I started writing down all kinds of memories. Some are just a phrase. Others are sentences and paragraphs. There’s a poem and at least one list. In a sense, I’ve started a memoir, and Thomas has inspired me to open that file again and start playing around with it. I hope someday to share it with more people, perhaps as a book.
I had intended to attend a keynote address Abigail Thomas gave in my hometown last night. But my youngest granddaughter wanted to visit the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and see the mermaids, acrobats, and knights of the realm. So, that’s what we did. Somehow, I think Ms. Thomas would forgive me.