Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell

Years ago I began with reading Caroline Knapp's memoir, Drinking, which lead me to Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home (Caroline died after the first book, and in Gail's first book, she mostly wrote about her friendship with Caroline.) Caroline is still present in this book, but Gail has started to move on and so her presence, while still very important, isn't as pervasive. In fact, I think Gail might talk more about her mother in this book.

As per usual, Gail is obsessed with her dog. She's adopted a Samoyed which is young and energetic, which brings to a point the fact that Gail's lifelong limp due to childhood polio, is getting much worse, and it's very hard for her to get around anymore. She's always been active so it's frustrating for her, and it's also hard for her to admit. Then when she does, it's hard for her to get help. Many doctors simply dismiss it as arthritis brought on by the polio and basically tell her she just has to live with it. Finally a doctor gives her an MRI and lo and behold, the entire ball of her hip is just gone. Obliterated. It's miraculous that she's mobile at all.

Interspersed throughout are memories of her mother who helped Gail exercise for hours every day as a young child, to counteract the polio effects, and also memories of when her mother's health was failing and the trips to Texas and how Gail came to deal with and accept that change—another great loss around the same time as she lost Caroline.

Friends really come through, walking the dog, bringing her food, helping with things around the house. When you are on crutches you can't even bring your food from the counter to the table as you have no hands and I loved that her hospital had a monthly before-surgery class for how to deal with that stuff.

Gail hasn't had an easy life, what with being an alcoholic and having lost a lot of dear people too early, but she is unfailingly positive. Not in an annoying Pollyannaish optimistic way, but in a realistic way of knowing that things will improve, because they invariable have. I really appreciated that. I also loved the flowing language (it was great to hear on audio with Gail herself reading) and the occasional light humor. This was a short book about getting on with life even when it gets complicated and difficult. She doesn't blow smoke about how things happen for a reason or any silver linings about the tragedies, but her dogged determination and her just-get-out-of-bed-every-day attitude were inspiring in their own quiet ways. I loved it.

I downloaded this eaudiobook via Overdrive through my local library.

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