Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Gail Caldwell celebrates her extraordinary friendship with
fellow writer Caroline Knapp in Let’s Take the Long Way Home. It is a
touching, honest, and often humorous look at their relationship–how
they met, why they bonded, and what kept them together. Her memories
are clear and deep, and she shares them all, not shying away from the
unpleasant nor overwhelming with the too saccharine.

Both women were recovering alcoholics; both were writers; both loved
their dogs beyond normal reason. It was this latter commonality that
brought them together in the first place. They talked about their dogs
as other women might their children. They were always together, dogs
and masters, whether in training, walking, or vacationing. Both women
were competitive. Caldwell excelled in swimming and Knapp in rowing.
Each taught the other her sport while still maintaining an edge. Their
personalities complemented one another, as is the case of many lasting
friendships. Caldwell was the risk-taker, the bold one, while Knapp
was the more conservative good girl. They simply loved sharing life
and Knapp would often say at the end of a day, “Let’s take the long
way home…”

While neither hid her addiction from the other, it was not a regular
topic of conversation; it was a silent partner in their relationship
always lending an immediate depth that might have otherwise taken
years to develop. Of it Caldwell says, “Deeper than most of the most
obvious parallels between us was the drinking history we had in
common–that empty room in the heart that is the essence of
addiction.” It did not rule their relationship, but rather lent it a
special sensitivity, a knowing of the other.

Caldwell later remarks “…the real need was soldered by the sadder, harder
moments–discord or helplessness or fear–that we dared to expose to
each other. It took me years to grasp that this grit and discomfort in
any relationship are the indicator of closeness, not its opposite.”

As they shared every aspect of their lives, expecting to go on into
old age as best friends, there came an event which blind-sided them
both. Knapp was diagnosed with a virulent fast-moving lung cancer.
“Before one enters this spectrum of sorrow, which changes even the
color of trees, there is a blind and daringly wrong assumption that
probably allows us to blunder through the days. There is a way one
thinks that the show will never end–or that loss, when it comes, will
be toward the end of the road, not in its middle.”

From that time forward, life as they knew it spiraled away from them.
Here was the one experience they couldn’t truly share, but they could
and would go through it together. As quickly as this phase of their
life began, it was over–Knapp’s death coming more quickly than anyone
could have anticipated. Now there was just left to Caldwell to go on
with life with a hole rent through it. Nothing would or could ever be
the same. Life would now be processed through a different lens. “What
they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is the simple
part.”

This is as honest a narrative of friendship, loyalty, loss, and grief
as I have ever read. Caldwell’s words are powerful and genuine, and
will gladden your heart with the good times, and wrench your soul with
their stark pain. Caldwell is that kind of writer, and readers will be
the richer for reading this book.

AuthorInfo: Author info: Gail Caldwell is the 2001 Pulitzer Prize
winner for Criticism. She is the former chief book critic for the
Boston Globe where she worked for over twenty years. She has also
published a memoir of growing up in the Amarillo, Texas area–A Strong
West Wind. She holds two degrees in American Studies from the
University of Texas at Austin. She currently resides in Cambridge,
Massachusetts.

I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.
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