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An Approach to Memoir: A Review of Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It

Abigail Thomas What Comes

An Approach to Memoir: A Review of Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It. 

 

An innate obsession of mine is fastening monopoly over people — an exclusive possession: my maternal grandfather is one. The grandfather I never knew: whose picture hasn’t flicker past my face; nor has the cadence of his voice filled my ear; his smell lay entombed somewhere in Ijebu whose route is a shoddy sketch on my head. Yet, I used the personal pronoun ” My” and its acolyte: ” mine, ours and yours — monosyllabic display of ownership—  when addressing his memory: ” My grandfather’s cloth; the house is ours; it’s my grandfather’s. My grandfather is an Alhaji and the acolyte appellation being one attract is polygamist; my maternal grandmother was the second wife, and my mother was their only child. How do I claim a past that eludes me? 

 

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1, April 1975: My maternal grandfather died. The death of the family patriarch is common knowledge; the date of death is a hazy time in the past. The lost date suffices this year — 47 years of oblivion.  1, April 2022, I was woken by the rumble of lumped-filled words of an Alfa ( a Muslim cleric) and the timely ” Amin” — an accompaniment from my mother, to his what I later learned was a prayer. Forgive me, we are trained as Christians, not Muslims. My mother held a remembrance prayer for him. March 2022, ended with no official “list of books to read in April” for me. With a cursory glimpse at my digital library, a title attracted me: Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It

 

Abigail Thomas What Comes
Cover – What Comes Next and How to Like It | Abigail Thomas / Source: Amazon

The past is the longest scenery, — an endless landscape of insights. This is the central point of Abigail’s memoir. What do we learn from the past? Three spotlighted individuals: Abigail – the writer, Chuck – her best friend, and Catherine – Abigail’s daughter. Giving technical credence to its tripartite characters, the memoir is divided into 3 parts: Unbreakable Connection, I Don’t get to Live Forever, and The Wilderness of not knowing. Each word, sentence, paragraph, and section of Abigail’s words was a repository of the affection and intimacy the three characters shared: 

“In a weak moment, Chuck offered to write his side of the story. He planned to use my assignment of three-word sentences to describe any ten years of your life. I give it to all my incoming students. “Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long.” It’s a good assignment. You can’t hide behind a sapling.” 

You are reading: An Approach to Memoir: A Review of Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It. 

 

With meager diction which proves too fragile, it held me affixed to the pages: page 1 quickly dissolves to page 30 in split seconds. An advocate of brevity, an affinity she shared with William Strunk, the memoir takes its form from her college assignment: “Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long.” Each sentence wasn’t trio words, but each sentence held Abigail’s mantra: Brevity as a hermitage of vulnerability. This approach gives the memoir another appellation: A teaching guide. 

The memoir has an often retread metaphor: Painting. Abigail’s opening story is titled Painting, Not Writing : 

” So instead of not-writing, I am painting.”    

You are reading: An Approach to Memoir: A Review of Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It.

  

What do the strokes of Abigail’s painting brush teach us? The cocktail of paints: blue, red, white, and yellow, shows the intimacy and allegiance Abigail’s history had with others. The enlisting of variants of color in forming a single drawing is the metaphor of how variants of the history that created us are — our life as counterpoint colors meshed into a solo piece. Blue mixes with red. Yellow with white. A new color emerges. Humans age; memories age with them. What weight of memories is lost as we ascend the ladder of age? What personal history do we lose or gain as we mix with others? 

In our family room, a framed picture hung on the wall. 3 familiar faces: Joshua- my elder brother; Tosin – my younger sister and Seyi – me. A flower was placed beside us – for aesthetic purposes I presume. Flowers bloom, but sadly my memory of the day had waned. Save the clothes we wore, no scene or details from that picture flicker past my mind. There is a shortlist of images or events I remember in my history. 

 

You are reading: An Approach to Memoir: A Review of Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How to Like It.

 

As I look at the picture while writing this essay in the paucity of memories it stares at, I was amazed at Abigail’s ability to remember : 

 “I don’t know,” I said carefully. “I don’t know anyone’s story except my own and I don’t even know that.”

 

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Remembering and forgetting the history that made me become an interloper in my history. ‘ What Comes Next and How to Like It’ is Abigail’s subtle acceptance of her mortality: Death is coming soon. The memoir is replete with metaphors of death: Her expired and renewed plate number;  the decrease of her dogs; the sales of dead parents’ detritus. 

In Abigail’s memoir objects transcend their literary meaning: The expiring date of her driver’s license becomes a barometer to measure the pressure of aging and dying: 

” I  have to stop smoking. My driver’s license needs to be renewed in 2015 and will last another ten years. I am struck by the thought that if I keep smoking a pack a day I may expire before it does. I put on my nicotine patches and hope for the best.”

 

 

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