“Let’s Take the Long Way Home” – A Review

It isn’t often that a memoir makes its way onto my favorite books list.  Often memoirs are interesting, but not compelling.  They can be clunky and grounded too much in telling and not enough showing.  This memoir is not.  This book, Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell is a book about friendship and loss.  It is about true connections; the bond we have with friends, the bond or lack of bond we have with family, the bond we have with pets.  It is also about the bond Caldwell had with drinking and why it was an important part of a story about friendship – her best friend, Caroline Knapp, had also struggled with alcoholism and published her book Drinking: A Love Story before they met.

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

Caldwell takes you deep into the heart of what it’s like to find someone you connect with you on a deep level and how they touch your life everyday.  Then she tells you what it’s like, after having that bond in your life every day, you lose your best friend.

Caldwell is an incredible writer.  Her language makes the prosaic sound profound without seeming forced.  She paints the key moments to their friendship without needing to tell you about every little mundane thing – only the mundane things that are important.  She reminds you that someone’s story doesn’t end with their death.  She frankly discusses her drinking problem and those struggles.  Some Goodreads reviewers felt that she talked about her drinking too much, but I disagree.  For both her and Knapp, as alcoholics, drinking is an important part of their story and a struggle that non-alcoholics cannot relate to.  Without that section I don’t think I could have understood the implications of the bond that they share because of what they both went through.  Since Caldwell is a writer the book is also about writing.  It is a book about so many things, yet is cohesive.  Ultimately, this book touched me very deeply.  It made me think of all the times I’ve lost people and reflect on how I processed that grief and made me want to call my best friend right away (though I couldn’t since it was the middle of the night).  It also helped me understand the bond that people have with their dogs, something that I’ve never really understood as a cat person who has never had a dog in her life.  Overall, this book feels both real and dreamlike at times.  I cried through the last half, but don’t let that deter you.  It’s well worth reading.

Some memorable quotes:

On Writers: “If writer’s possess a common temperament, it’s that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave.”

On AA: “I had realized, as life is always willing to instruct, that the world as we see it is only the published version.  The subterranean realms, whether churches or hospital rooms or smoke-filled basements, are part of what hold up the rest.”

On Death: “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 another’s lives until not death, but distance, do us part — time and space and the heart’s weariness are the blander executioners of human connection.

On Death: “Suffering is what changes the endgame, changes death’s mantle from black to white.  It is a badly lit corridor outside of time, a place of crushing weariness, the only thing large enough to bully you into holding the door for death.”

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3 Responses to ““Let’s Take the Long Way Home” – A Review”
  1. daylily2011 says:

    Your review has sold me on getting this book. I must read it! Thanks. –Daylily

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