Fiction-writer Thomas (An Actual Life, 1996, etc.) examines the challenges confronted after a tragic accident forced her to remake her life.
The author was in her late 50s when her husband was struck by a car and suffered a head injury that severely damaged his brain. At times delusional, paranoid, psychotic, aggressive, angry and without memory, Rich was “my husband and not my husband,” as Thomas puts it. She anguished over her inability or unwillingness to keep him at home, knowing that to do so would mean sacrificing her own life to become not just his caretaker, but his jailer. Instead, she placed him in a long-term-care facility for people with brain injuries, visited regularly, and brought him home for afternoon visits. The descriptions of Rich’s sometimes off-the-wall, sometimes eerily perceptive comments are one of the book’s highlights. Meanwhile, Thomas put together a new life, making new friends, pursuing new interests, acquiring new dogs. Harry, the beagle her husband had been chasing when the accident occurred, was joined by Rosie, half-dachshund and half-whippet, then later by Carolina Bones, a part-beagle stray. (This trio of warmth-providing sleeping companions gives the book its title, drawn from an aboriginal saying.) While basically chronological, Thomas’s memoir meanders at times: One moment, she’s explaining how to break up a dogfight; the next, she’s touting cutting down nettles as a cure for melancholy, or telling us about smoking and giving up smoking. One of the most unexpected side excursions is prompted by her discovery of art produced by brain- damaged patients. She begins collecting it, an enthusiasm that prompts an enjoyable chapter on outsider art.
More of a scrapbook than a full-fledged memoir, but still an affecting account of guilt, shame and acceptance.