Book Review: Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Description from the publisher:

“It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.”

So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.

They met over their dogs. Both writers, Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story, became best friends, talking about everything from their shared history of a struggle with alcohol, to their relationships with men and colleagues, to their love of books. They walked the woods of New England and rowed on the Charles River, and the miles they logged on land and water became a measure of the interior ground they covered. From disparate backgrounds but with striking emotional similarities, these two private, fiercely self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen.

The friendship helped them define the ordinary moments of life as the ones worth cherishing. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

With her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion and grief in this moving memoir about treasuring and losing a best friend. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a celebration of life and of the transformations that come from intimate connection—and it affirms, once again, why Gail Caldwell is recognized as one of our bravest and most honest literary voices.

This book really got me.

It reminded me a lot of the film Once, which is centered on the idea that in life, it is extraordinarily rare to meet someone with whom we have a true, effortless connection. And that, for many people, it only happens once.

Much is said and written about romantic connections and familial connections, but less emphasis is placed on friendships, especially as we get older. This book serves as a touching tribute to the importance that friendship can have in a person’s life, and the overwhelming grief that occurs when it’s gone.

I picked this book up because I’ve recently experienced the ending of a close friendship that spanned close to two decades of my life. “Let’s take the long way” was something we used to say to each other when we walked around together, talking about everything and nothing. I hoped this book would offer some advice regarding how to gain closure, but instead I found myself caught up in the friendship of Gail and Caroline, and mourning their loss of their dogs and each other almost as much as I’ve mourned my own loss. Though I knew how the story would end, I wished so badly that there would somehow be a surprise ending where Caroline lived and their friendship could resume. And I came away with the realization that sometimes closure is something other than what we expect and hope for. I was reminded of one of my favorite Jeanette Winterson quotes:

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the cliches that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?

I really loved this book, and recommend it to anyone who has ever lost anyone, whether it was to death or simply to the ebb and flow of life.

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