"I wanted the warmth of spontaneous connection and the freedom to be left alone." ~ Gail Caldwell
From the start of this profoundly beautiful story we know that Gail Caldwell loses her best friend Caroline Knapp. As she puts it so precisely, you can't "sidestep the cruelty of an intolerable loss." For about a third of this book the words were blurry because it is so moving. Just when I thought I had composed myself enough to read on, I cried again. Sometimes I'd read a sentence and reread it again and again because it was so true.
This is the story of two soul mates who love dogs, swimming and sculling. In some way it doesn't matter what they were doing, they just loved being together. After an outing they would find themselves both at home calling each other on the phone. Their friendship is deep, meaningful and essential!
There are some surprising details like how they both dated the same man. What are the chances of that happening? Then there is the fact that they both loved drinking at one point in their lives and overcame their addiction before meeting. Gail Caldwell talks briefly about her own drinking problem but mostly focuses on the friendship.
"Let's Take the Long Way Home" is a book that will work its way into your heart in ways few books ever will. I loved the warmth of Gail Caldwell's writing style and how she expresses such honest feelings in lucid prose. This is one of the best books I've read this year!
~The Rebecca Review
This beautiful memoir of friendship could only come from someone who has experienced an intimate emotional connection of the highest level with another human being. Gail Caldwell had that connection with fellow writer Caroline Knapp, then lost it when Knapp died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.
I was consumed by Knapp's own memoir, Drinking: A Love Story many years ago. I remember reading of Knapp's death not long after that and feeling so pained by the fact that she had survived alcoholism only to be robbed of her life just a few years later. Caldwell's book was like finding a missing piece for me, an intimate look into the lives of Knapp and Caldwell and the tremendous friendship they wove together through walks in the woods, long summer vacations together and countless hours on the phone. A friendship that close changes lives forever, but neither was prepared for what lie ahead.
It seemed perverse almost, that fate would tear these two souls apart and Caldwell chronicles her private suffering with unrelenting candor and despair. Not only could I see the hole in her heart, her brilliant storytelling allowed me to feel it to some degree. That's the mark of excellence in a good memoir. Let's Take the Long Way Home doesn't just tell a story. It takes us along for a walk in the woods and like Caldwell, at journey's end, we're never the same.
Highly recommended, esp. after reading Knapp's memoir.
Gail Caldwell's memoir is a touching account of friendship that is brief but all encompassing. Although she and Caroline Knapp are only friends for seven years before Caroline is felled by lung cancer, the two built a relationship that is deeper than what's enjoyed by many blood relatives.
Their lives contained many similarities. Both women are childless, single writers and former alcoholics who initially bond over their dogs, but their relationship deepens to the point where Gail says it was easy to mistake them for sisters or lovers.
Both women are loners which makes it seem kind of unlikely that they would form this lasting friendship, but their relationship works because they respect each other's boundaries and both believed in confronting problems head-on instead of stewing in silence.
Gail's account of her years as a functional alcoholic are stark and poignant. In one particularly bad moment, she passes out in a drunken stupor and breaks four ribs. This doesn't stop her from drinking and she fashions a portable bar by attaching a bag of ice and a flask of liquor to her crutches. It takes her a long time to accept that she was in fact an alcoholic and needed help to stop drinking. And unlike Caroline who'd written a book about her drinking problem, Gail never really liked to discuss this part of her life and they had been friends for a while before she ever broached the subject.
But despite all their other similarities, it is their devotion to their dogs that dominates most of the story. These women love their animals and spent lots of time and money training and caring for them. Gail reckons that it's sort of a maternal bond that you have with someone who is completely dependent on you for your survival, but the incongruity is that Gail, who is reclusive after she gives up drinking, was afraid of anyone needing her that much or of her needing anyone else that much. She was even reluctant to call Caroline after she was involved in an accident that landed her in the hospital.
Gail's friendship with Caroline was a gift that allowed her to grow and become a more open person, and her loss also taught Gail some hard lessons about grief and sorrow. This book is truly a remarkable tale about the intersection of the lives of two kindred spirits.
on August 10, 2010
If you have tears, prepare to shed them.
Caroline Knapp was the author of Drinking: A Love Story. I've wriiten about it on [...] because some of you surely have issues with alcohol, and I thought it might be of use. And because it's acutely observed and beautifully written. And because there's a painful irony here: Caroline got sober, only to die in June of 2002, when she was forty-two, seven weeks after she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
Caroline Knapp had a best friend. Gail Caldwell. Also a writer. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2001. She too had alcohol issues.
Two women writers. Both dog lovers. Both recovering alcoholics. Both living alone, and liking it. Both athletes. Near-neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Friends. Best friends. One died. The other wrote a book: "Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship." [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
There are men and women I love, and I think they know it, and I hope they know how incredibly lucky I feel that I'm in their lives, but we're talking about something else here, something deeper and more precious and, certainly, scarier.
"It's an old story," Caldwell begins. "I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that.''
Define everything. Well, rowing on the Charles River. Writing. Alcoholism. And, most of all, afternoon-long walk with their dogs:
"'Let's take the long way home,' she would say once we had gotten to the car, and then we would wend our way through the day traffic of Somerville or Medford, in no hurry to separate. At the end of the drive, with Clementine [Caldwell's dog] snoring softly in the back seat, we would sit outside the house of whoever was being dropped off, and keep talking. Then we would go inside our respective houses and call each other on the phone."
This is a grief memoir, but that descent into deepest sadness is also, by definition, an exploration of peak experiences. Everything's heightened, brighter, sharper in lives lived this acutely. This is a 190-page book --- we don't get to Caroline's illness until page 125. What comes before? This great friendship, detailed. But also a condensed biography of Caroline Knapp. And a lacerating autobiography of Gail Caldwell:
"I've always remembered one thing Rich [Caldwell's AA adviser] said one day, when I was buried in fear and shame at the idea that I had drunk my way into alcoholism. He asked me why I was so frightened, and I told him, weeping, the first thing that came into my mind: "I'm afraid that no one will ever love me again." He leaned toward me with a smile of great kindness on his face, his hands clasped in front of him. "Don't you know?" he asked gently. "The flaw is the thing we love."
Eventually --- you dread it --- Caldwell gets to Caroline's fatal illness. The disbelief. The stoicism. And then, as Caroline begins her final descent, the combination of love and pride and hurt --- the recognition moment of what there was and what will be lost.
"Near the end, I asked him [Caroline's former therapist] what he thought was happening, and he said, "Tell her everything you haven't said," and I smiled with relief. "There's nothing," I said. "I've already told her everything."
Can you imagine that? I can't.
I've always had a weakness for damaged women --- they're so much more beautiful than the perfect ones. From her own book, I found Caroline Knapp to be ravishing. Now, here, I add Gail Caldwell.
What an astonishing friendship. What great women. What a stellar, unforgettable book.
on August 8, 2010
If you haven't yet discovered Caroline Knapp's writing this is an excellent intro. But, as much as this book is a remembrance of the friendship between the author, Gail Cauldwell, and Knapp, it is also about the closeness of friends, about death, and about loss. It is a small book crammed with wisdom.
"It's an old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and we shared that, too." That is how this book begins.
I found Caroline Knapp when I read her book , "Pack of Two", about the author and her dog Lucille. Then I read "Drinking, A Love Story". Knapp's writing is clear and personal. (Check the Amazon reviews to see how many people were helped by this book.) When I learned that she had died in 2002, I wanted more. "Let's Take the Long Way Home, A Memoir of Friendship" is that. Gail Caldwell shares her feelings and thoughts and memories about her best friend, Caroline Knapp. "What they never tell you about grief," she writes, "is that missing someone is the simple part."
Who is this book for? Readers like me who were moved by Caroline Knapp's writing and want more-- more about Knapp's life and personality and even her death. Readers who want an honest and thoughtful memoir about each of the two halves of a relationship, together and apart.
Knapp and Caldwell are two independent women writers who love their dogs and are recovering alcoholics when they meet. Caldwell writes about her own Texas background and her family's wisdom. She talks about feeling at home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the city where Knapp lived all her life. And she tells stories about her friend, sharing her humor and her love and her strength. So I found what I was looking for in this book, another side of Caroline Knapp that she would have been too modest to write about herself.
Let's Take The Long Way Home is, at its core, a love story. It's a story of how a close connection with a friend can ground us and provide us with a life worth living. And it's a story that any woman who has ever had a friend who is like a sister - I count myself among those fortunate women - will understand in a heartbeat.
Gail Caldwell, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, met Caroline Knapp, also a writer, over their mutual love of their dogs. Ms. Caldwell writes, "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."
Both women - about a decade apart in age - are passionate about writing and their dogs and have successfully dealt with alcohol addiction that knocked them to their knees. "We had a lot of dreams, some of them silly, all part of the private code shared by people who plan to be around for the luxuries of time," Ms. Caldwell shares.
Quickly, Gail and Caroline and their two dogs become a "pack of four". They are both self-described moody introverts who prefer the company of dogs. Yet, "...we gave each other wide berth - it was far easier, we learned over the years, to be kind to the other than to ourselves." As they grow closer, Gail and Caroline learn that nurturance and strength "were each the lesser without the other."
It is almost inconceivable that this close friendship would ever end, but Caroline is a smoker and at 42, she learns she has stage 4 lung cancer. Her death comes quickly, in a matter of weeks. Gail Caldwell reflects, "Death is a divorce nobody asked for; to live through it is to find a way to disengage from what you thought you couldn't stand to lose." And later: "Caroline's death had left me with a great and terrible gift: how to live in a world where loss, some of it unbearable, is as common as dust or moonlight." Eventually, she comes to realize "...we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures."
This memoir is poignant, authentic, unflinching, and genuine - never manipulative or sudsy. In addition to the profound look at an extraordinary friendship, it also focuses on "inter-species" love - between two fiercely self-reliant woman and their dogs. The rich and moving portrayal of Gail Caldwell's Samoy, Clementine, will be entirely familiar to those of us who have shared our lives with four-legged "fur babies"; love in any guise is still love.
This eloquent book ends up being a celebration of life in all its complexities - including love, friendship, devotion, and grief. As Gail Caldwell writes, "The real trick is to let life, with all its ordinary missteps and regrets, be consistently more mysterious and alluring than its end."
on August 10, 2010
Reviewed by Claudia Kawczynska, Editor-in-chief, The Bark
Intensely moving, without a hint of sentimentality, Let's Take the Long Way Home--part memoir and part biography of a friendship--should be read and cherished by dog lovers and readers of my magazine, The Bark. Gail Caldwell is a fiercely private, independent, talented writer (with a Pulitzer Prize for criticism) and a dog enthusiast. So, when a dog trainer commented that she reminded her of another Cambridge writer who also had a new puppy, and added that she should try to get together with her, Caldwell wisely heeded the advice. What followed was the making of a remarkable relationship with Caroline Knapp (author of Pack of Two), one based not only on personality similarities but on the trust each of them--both reserved women--placed in the other, allowing them to open up and choose to take the "long way home" together.
Be prepared for tears from the book's opening, which starts with Knapp's death and the observation that "grief is what tells you who you are alone," to its end, which closes with the knowledge that "the universe insists that what is fixed is also finite." But this isn't a maudlin tale, nor is it overtly expository like many memoirs can be; rather, it is revelatory, joyous and inspiring. Caldwell expertly draws the reader into her story as a hard-driving feminist from Amarillo, Texas, who saw "drinking as an anesthetic for high-strung sensitivity and a lubricant for creativity," then realized that surrendering her addiction was a "way to get back all your power."
When Knapp enters her circle, Caldwell notes (reflecting on the first of their many long dog walks), "Even on that first afternoon we spent together--a four-hour walk through late-summer woods--I remember being moved by Caroline: It was a different response from simple affection or camaraderie. ... I found it a weightless liberation to be with someone whose intensity seemed to match and sometimes surpass my own." Both shared deep bonds with their dogs--Caldwell with Clementine, a Samoyed, Knapp with Lucille, a Shepherd mix--both had stopped drinking at age 33, and both had early health problems. They also traded sports passions--Caldwell's for swimming and Knapp's for rowing.
But, "everything really started with the dogs." The two women reveled in unlocking the mysteries of canine behavior and in the triumphs earned through polishing their training skills. Theirs was a tight, close friendship, the kind that calls to mind Polonius's counsel to "grapple them [friends] to thy soul with hoops of steel." Caldwell generously allows the reader into their most intimate moments, including when Knapp learned of the cancer diagnosis, her last months in the hospital, and the brief reprieve when Knapp married her long-time companion, Mark Morelli, with Lucille as their ring bearer and Caldwell as her "humble handler."
On a personal note, I must share with you the jolt I felt when I read about Caroline in the hospital, telling Gail that the only assignment she hadn't been able to finish was one I'd given her ("a dog lover's magazine" in the book). Caroline was slated to contribute to Bark's first anthology, "Dog Is My Co-Pilot". I was thrilled when she offered to write an essay and eagerly awaited it; news of her death (which I learned of through a New York Times obituary) came the day her essay was due. As Caroline asks Gail, "What am I supposed to write about ... the only thing worse than losing your dog is knowing that you won't outlive her?"
As it is, with Caroline Knapp's Pack of Two, and now with her best friend's enthralling "pack of four" memoir, both their stories will endure, classics that outlive us all.
on April 11, 2012
I appreciate the author's love for her dog and for Caroline Knapp, but I felt betrayed throughout this book by her essential lack of interest in her purported subject, her friendship with Knapp. The book is not about Knapp, her life, her dog, or her relationship with Caldwell: it is about Caldwell. ALL about Caldwell, right down to which of Knapp's belongings she appropriated after her death. And Caldwell is not the writer Knapp was. She has compelling moments, but most of this book is filled with cliches, combined with strange word choices and dubious grammatical command. Nor does Caldwell have Knapp's devastating honesty. She covers important material, like alcoholism, love, family, and death, without ever really stopping, pausing, and thinking. I came away knowing more than I was interested to hear about the trivia of Caldwell's life (that her plaque from a school in Texas was chipped? Really?!) and very little about Knapp, a woman I wish I had met when alive.
This book is a heartfelt memoir of a friendship between two women, who on the surface seem unlikely friends, but underneath have much in common. As we find out in the beginning, the author loses her best friend, Caroline, to cancer at a fairly young age. It is a sad and poignant story, and there was much I could relate to in it, as I too lost my best friend at a young age. I wish I could have written a book as good as this one is, to immortalize a bit of that friendship. Time goes by, and memories fade, but the friendship remains a part of you.
The author and Caroline bond over their dogs - both of them are passionate about them (I'm passionate about mine, too). They exercise them together, take them to parks together - they include their dogs in most of the things they do together. They also find that each of them are recovering alcoholics (another thing I could relate to), but that is just a small part of the memoir. Gail teaches Caroline to swim, Caroline teaches Gail to row, and they appear to become like family to each other, (along with their dogs).
This is an easy and compelling read - I read it in 2 days. It is NOT a happy read for the most part, so it's not one for the beach. Gail Caldwell writes VERY well - you can almost feel her emotion coming at you through the pages, and more than once I found myself with tears in my eyes.
This book is written from the heart - there's no doubt about that. Highly recommended - very close to 5 stars.
on August 26, 2010
If you are lucky, you may experience at least once in your life a soul-mate friendship, the kind where you find this magical version of yourself in the guise of another. Such was the case with Gail Caldwell and her late friend, Caroline Knapp.
These single women writers (although Knapp did marry her boyfriend a few weeks before her untimely death at age 43 from lung cancer) came from quite different backgrounds but bonded through work, dogs, rowing, and recovery from alcoholism. Knapp herself wrote a 1996 bestselling memoir, "Drinking: A Love Story."
The account of their growing friendship in Cambridge, MA through their mutual interests is engaging. The section where Caldwell describes her background and recovery from alcoholism deepens the story. Even richer is the period following Knapp's death where Caldwell so convincingly describes the exile of grief. In a devastating turn, loss echoes loss when Caldwell must put down her beloved Samoyed, Clementine, in an account that will break your heart. Read this memoir only if you want to feel deeply.
The beauty of this book is how it well it captures the serendipitous spark of friendship, its growth and deepening, and its loss. It shows that although a life may end, the relationship continues.