Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Let's Take the Long Way Home; Gail Caldwell

Title: Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
Author:  Gail Caldwell
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher:  Random House
Edition: Trade
Source: my shelves 
Date Completed: January - 2013 
Rating: 5/5 
Recommend: yes

Gail Caldwell's, Let's Take the Long Way Home, is not just another memoir. It's a beautiful written piece about friendship, love and loss.  It's about (2) women, friends for just (6) years, but who had so very much in common. Two women who knew much more about each other than any other person in their lives.

Both writers, the author Gail Caldwell, grew up in Texas but moved to Cambridge, MA, and worked as a book review editor for the Boston Globe.  Caroline Knapp, grew up in Boston and also lived in Cambridge. She worked as an editor for the Boston Phoenix when she and Gail became friends.  Together they shared a love for the outdoors, physical activity and dogs. Privately, they won their battles with alcoholism, and each craved solitude at times as well.

Caldwell, (9) years older than Knapp, writes in a way that most readers will relate to. By the time we get to a certain age, most of us have lost a person or a pet we have loved and have had to deal with intense emotional grief.  However,  I suspect fewer of us have lost a person who knew your every secret and your every fear. This is the kind of intense friendship that Gail and Caroline shared in just (6) years that they were friends.

Over long walks with their dogs, often "taking the long way home", rowing expeditions, and deep private conversations, these two women shared something that many may never experience in a lifetime.  But in just a few months that was about to change. In June of 2002, just (7) weeks after learning she had stage IV lung cancer, Caroline Knapp passed away at the age of 42, and Gail was left to cope with her overwhelming sense of grief and loss.

There were so many passages that made me stop and reflect and reread.  I rarely write in books, but my copy has stars and stripes throughout. Here are some of the passages I loved: 

"Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived ---Apart, we had each been frightened drunks and aspiring writers and dog lovers; together we became a small corporation.

"But as much as I complained about solitude, I also required it.  I put a high price on my freedom from obligation, of having to report to no one....The truth was that I had always fled. The men I didn't marry, the relationships I walked away from or only half-heartedly engaged in -- there were always well-lit exits, according to building code, in every edifice I helped create."

IT'S TAKEN YEARS FOR ME TO UNDERSTAND THAT dying doesn't end the story; it transforms it.  Edits, rewrites, the blur and epiphany of one-way dialogue. Most of us wander in and out of one anothers lives until not death, but distance, does as part-time and space the heart's weariness are the blander executioners of human connection."

"I had a friend who years before had lost her firstborn when he was an infant, and she told me one of the most piercing consolations she received in her early grief was from a man who recognized the fierce loyalty one feels to the dead. 'The real hell of this,' he told her, is that you are going to get through it. "Like a starfish, the heart endures its amputation".

So you see, for me this memoir is one of those rare books that I'm sure I'll reread at a time when I feel that need to revisit the subject of grief.  Let's Take the Long Way Home, will give the reader a reason to smile, a reason to shed a few tears and a reason to tell the people you love the most how much they mean to you over and over again.

(Thanks to Leslie@ Under My Apple Tree for sending this gem my way).


  1. I am normally not a big memoir reader but this one appeals to me.

  2. One of my favourite books of all times! Glad to see you loved it too.

  3. This sounds so touching! The quotes were beautiful.

  4. This sounds like one I'd like. Thanks for telling us about it, Diane.

  5. How rare to find this kind of a friend. And how sad to lose her so soon. Excellent review.

  6. sounds like an intense book..
    beautiful cover.

  7. I love the sound of this one, and I am going through something similar with a friend right now. This might be something to look for in the future, when all is said and done. Very nice review today.

  8. I really should make the time to finally read this. It sounds like a beautiful memoir.

  9. I heard her read from the book on one of the radio stations I listen to and it sounded like a very beautifully written memoir.

  10. This sounds like a very moving book, Diane. I'm hesitant still to read books about loss, but I will add this one to my wish list for when I am ready.

    I have never been lucky enough to have a friend with another woman like these two women had, although I have lost friends to cancer.

  11. I agree that this is a five star book Diane. I read it last year and it touched me on a few levels. I could see myself reading this one again one day.

  12. I may have to add this one to my list. It sounds like an excellent read. I think I'd have to be in a certain mood, though.

  13. This is on my list and thank you for another great book review Diane.

  14. I loved this book, too; it was definitely one of those unforgettable tales that shows the strength of our connections, and the devastation of those losses.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. This sounds amazing and I must read it this year for sure. It's sad that they were so very close and were only able to share their lives for six short years! Your review was so beautiful, Diane!!!

  16. i love reading memoirs so i'm definitely checking this one out especially after your splendid review of it.

  17. I read this book a couple of years ago and remember it making me cry as it was so lovely and touching. It's nice to hear it moved you the same way.

  18. Sounds like a sad one but touching. I think the books you feel compelled to write in really speak to you.

  19. How lucky she was to have found such a friendship. Sad that she lost her so young, but a friendship like that doesn't come along too often.


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