Friday, August 20, 2010

Review of Let's Take the Long Way Home

Gail Caldwell, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for her work as book critic for the Boston Globe, documents her friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp (Boston Phoenix columnist and author of Drinking: a Love Story) in a beautifully written and insightful memoir. Their bond began over their love of dogs and was cemented over additional shared experiences such as the writing life, athleticism, and past struggles with alcoholism. They both lived alone in the Cambridge area. Although this memoir focuses specifically on a friendship, it also contains mini-biographies of the two women.

Caldwell writes: "That our life stories had wound their way toward each other on corresponding paths was part of the early connection. 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."

Knapp died in 2002 at 42 of lung cancer, less than two months after her diagnosis. Most of the book is dedicated to their friendship before she fell ill. But inevitably, Caldwell must deal with the end of her friend's life. Caldwell has insightful things to say about grief, such as, "Maybe this is the point: to embrace the core sadness of life without toppling headlong into it, or assuming it will define your days. The real trick is to let life, with all its ordinary missteps and regrets, be consistently more mysterious and alluring than its end." The book contains excellent writing about the strong bond between individuals as well as reflections on life and loss.