Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Published by Random House
The last thing Gail Caldwell expected to find when training her dog Clementine was a best friend, but that is exactly what she found in Caroline Knapp, and more. Gail and Caroline’s dog trainer suggested then spend some time together because they were so alike. Both women had puppies they’d gotten less than a year ago, they were both writers, both recovering alcoholics, athletic, and incredibly independent. From that fateful meeting, the women formed a lasting bond that would sustain them until Caroline’s death of lung cancer, a short time after being diagnosed.
Released earlier this August, “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” is getting a lot of buzz. While I was at BEA, a representative of Random House listed it as one of the publishing house’s top 5 picks for book clubs this coming year. I must say, for about 140 pages, I didn’t really see it, and that is a long time in a book that is less than 190 pages long.
It also took me about that long to realize what my problem was with it. “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” is billed as a memoir of Gail and Caroline’s friendship, but it was almost more of an extended essay about their friendship, without the strong narrative of many of my favorite memoirs. Not that Caldwell didn’t have a strong voice, she does, but her writing milieu is on the critical side. Caroline was the columnist and memoirist in their relationship. Knowing this I’m not surprised that “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” was so much more like an essay, but it did not grab me as quickly as a more narrative-driven version of this story might have.
Of course, I can imagine that in many was, the essay structure was easier to write than the narrative would have been. There is so much love and pain, friendship and grief in this story, that for Gail to have gone deep into the story of her relationship with Caroline might have been deeply painful. Unfortunately, the pain is much of what makes this story so compelling. It was during Caroline’s sickness and after her death, the last 40 or so pages, that “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” really came into its own. Suddenly the pages seemed to be almost turning themselves, and my heart was fully immersed in this story.
Although I’m sure it would have been infinitely more difficult to write, I wish that Caldwell had been able to infuse more of the emotion from the end of “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” into the beginning of the book. However, even though I more appreciated the book for what it was than truly loved it, I think it is a must-read for any woman who has lost a close friend.
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