Leftover Life to Kill

By Caitlin Thomas

Book CoverJoan Didion mentioned this book in The Year of Magical Thinking, saying that when she read it in her 20s, she was exasperated with what she felt was Caitlin, Dylan Thomas’ widow, wallowing in self-pity, but that she could relate better now.

I was immediately struck by the name, because at times it describes my own feelings perfectly: how on earth am I going to get through the potential decades I have left when all of my plans for the future involved Thomas?

Unfortunately, Caitlin Thomas’ own strategy of alcohol, drugs, and shallow affairs while living off others’ charity in a small Italian villa is not the most helpful, and I have to admit to agreeing with 20-something Didion, that Caitlin’s raging against the world gets to be a bit much, even while I often feel similar myself. I would say that the entire book reflects my state of mind at the very worst 10% of the time, an emotional state of impotent rage and self-pity and self-destructiveness that I spend the rest of the time fighting against.

The most important piece of awareness this book did bring to me, though, was gratitude for the job that I often have to drag myself to with a combination of internal threats and bribery. I was occasionally resentful of Didion’s freedom from the need to work and juggle finances during her own recovery, but Caitlin (I’m avoiding calling her Thomas for obvious reasons) describes the emptiness of her days and her need for any sort of task to fill them (though she also refuses to find one), and I recognized that my work has kept me on a more structured path than I would have been able to create for myself during this time, and I am (grudgingly) grateful for that.

So, while the book was eventually worth while reading if only for that, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not particularly interested in the subject matter for one reason or another. Caitlin most often comes across as the stereotype that shows up in Austen novels and other period pieces of that time, always complaining of the ill treatment she gets from everyone around her, from no possible cause, since she herself is nothing but kindness, and would be more than happy to be of assistance to others if only she were in a better condition to do so.

I also had some doubts that I would even be able to finish the book, since Caitlin has an incredibly difficult writing style, which uses punctuation marks in very strange ways that actively block comprehension. Semi-colons are often used where comas should be, and comas are just sort of haphazardly thrown in wherever, along with the random colon and hyphen, as well. I eventually decided that I wasn’t going to get so hung up on reading comprehension, and instead was simply going to charge through the book at 50 pages a day and I would simply settle for taking in whatever I was able to at that pace, and that ended up working fairly well.

—Anna

One comment on “Leftover Life to Kill

  1. Kinsey says:

    She sounds like an interesting woman with an interesting story, but your review makes it clear that I would find the book completely insufferable. So I’m glad you read it, and that you were able to pull the useful bits out.

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