Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

Back in January I read Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. Part of the reason I picked the book up was that Let's Take had been getting a lot of publicity, and it reminded me of the earlier memoir. After I read it, I was wondering if Caroline had managed to stay sober long-term (after all, when she wrote the book she was only 1 year sober), and I also wanted to know how she fared later, when all the craziness had (hopefully) ended. So I found this book at a heavy discount at a Borders GOOB sale, and was able to catch up!

Now, you might be wondering why a book about Caroline Knapp would be written by someone else, particularly when Caroline had proven herself a more than adequate memoir writer. Well, as you find out pretty much immediately (not a spoiler), Caroline died of lung cancer at 41. She did remain sober for the 8 years after Drinking, but unfortunately she didn't quit smoking until 1 week before her cancer diagnosis.

Naturally, Ms. Caldwell's writing style differs from Ms. Knapp's, but it was lovely to read. The two writers became friends after a dog trainer mentioned they had a lot in common, and they then ran into each other at a book party. Both women were several years sober (Ms. Caldwell 10 years older than Ms. Knapp, also had 10 years' sobriety on her), both had 1-year-old dogs, and both were avid sportswomen (Ms, Knapp a skuller, Ms. Caldwell a swimmer). They became best friends pretty much immediately. And for 5 years, they were inseparable. Until the ultimate separation.

The end comes very fast. Caroline goes from being just fine, to hospitalized in just a couple of months. Of course, it's very tragic, but we've been prepared for this scene from the very first line of the book. What I was not prepared for was the tragedy that happened to Gail next (not going to spoil it for you) which was shocking and so sad. It's weird, but that second incident affected me even more than Caroline's death, I think partly because it was so sudden and surprising.

Let's Take the Long Way Home is poignant and touching and Gail is a wonderful writer. Despite her long sojourn in Boston, you can still hear the Texas in her spunk and stubbornness. She is a great companion on this journey. And I feel immense sympathy for her pain and loss. I hope she finds a friend half as wonderful as Caroline to help fill the void.

I bought this book at a Border's Going Out of Business sale.

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