Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gail Caldwell tells the story of her deep, abiding friendship with Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story. The two women had much in common: They were both writers, recovering alcoholics, serious athletes, dog lovers, extremely private, and fiercely independent. Introduced briefly at a party, they met again a few years ago when a mutual friend suggested they might hit it off because both were in the process of training puppies. That friend was right and a bond was formed that not even Knapp’s 2002 death from lung cancer at the age of forty-two could sever.
While Knapp was a devoted rower, Caldwell had long been a strong swimmer. The two women decided to teach each other so that they might become adept at the other’s sport of choice. They also walked the New England woods together, along with their dogs, Lucille and Clementine, and talked about every subject imaginable, including their mostly failed relationships with men, upbringings, work, and alcoholism.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a memoir about the power of friendship and the profound, yet often subtle ways that it changes one’s life. It is also a frank exploration of grief and learning to live with loss.
“I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died, so we shared that, too.” So begins Let’s Take the Long Way Home. Caldwell wrote that single sentence and then found that she could write no more for a solid year. Five years after Knapp’s death, however, Caldwell finally reached the point where she knew she had to write about it. “I’d gone through everything I could do to get over losing her, except write about it.” From that point on, she wrote the book quickly because “the memories felt encased. They were so accessible. I did not have to work to find the things I needed to write about. I think when the heart seizes, the mind grabs on, for whatever purpose.” The result is a moving homage not only to Knapp, but to the deep and somewhat mystical bond they shared.
Caldwell chronicles her early life, revealing how she came to be dependent upon alcohol to pull her through each day and, eventually, found her way to Alcoholics Anonymous and sobriety. It was a struggle with which Knapp was familiar and about which she had already written in Drinking: A Love Story, yet it took Caldwell quite some time to admit to Knapp that it was one more thing they had in common. Deeply private, Caldwell was not ready to admit the fact of her recovery, even to the woman who was fast becoming the best friend she would ever have.
I was very clear that what anchored the grief was the incredible love that preceded it. … Honoring the dead is in complete correlation to what they meant to you when they were here. The best thing I could do to honor the memory of us was go straight into the depths of who we were before she got sick.~ Author Gail Caldwell
Knapp was a heavy smoker, encouraged to quit as Caldwell had several years earlier. And eventually Knapp did give up cigarettes but, sadly, she did so only shortly before she was diagnosed with Stage IV inoperable lung cancer and doctors used words like “palliative” and “comfortable” to describe their devastating findings to Caldwell, as well as Morelli, Knapp’s long-time on-again, off-again boyfriend. Knapp lived only a few months after the diagnosis. When Knapp lost her ability to speak due to bleeding in her brain, Caldwell also stopped speaking and the two women communicated through silent gestures and looks, utilizing cues akin to those they had practiced with Lucille and Clementine for so many hours as they trained their beloved companions together. Caldwell’s starkly factual description of long days spent at Knapp’s beside is heart-breakingly straight-forward and profoundly powerful because of its unembellished truth. Anyone who has endured such a vigil will relate to and empathize with Caldwell’s experiences.
Caldwell’s tribute to her friendship with Knapp is an endearing story, but the book’s core strength lies in her account of how she dealt with her grief, eventually learning to accept Knapp’s death and find solace in her memories. When she doubted that she could make it through Knapp’s memorial service, another dear friend provided her with the words she needed to hear at that moment, the deceptively simple declaration that brought her consolation and strength: “You know, Gail, we’ve been doing this as a species for a long time. And it’s almost as if — it’s like the body just knows what to do.” Caldwell learned that he was right. She also learned that “[g]rief is what tells you who you are alone.”
As she reveals in Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Caldwell is an immensely talented writer. Her prose is exquisite, employing an economy of words that only adds to its emotional impact. The book is a testament to the transformative properties of friendship and, more particularly, female friendships. It is frequently so emotionally honest that readers who have suffered the loss of a great friend will find themselves deeply affected by and relating to Caldwell’s journey, but Caldwell also makes a strong statement about survival in the face of unspeakable loss and grief felt so strongly that it has the potential to be crippling. Since Knapp’s death, she has also lost both of her parents and her beloved Clementine, so by the time she began writing the book, she notes that grief “was a country I had traveled in for so long that I knew how to write about it as opposed to being in it.” She emphasizes that, in addition to paying tribute to her dearest friend, she also set out to share what she had learned about grief through her own experiences with her readers, so that if the book helps “one person . . . stumbling around in the ravages of early grief, then it will have been worth it.” Caldwell has spectacularly achieved her writing goals. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a warm, touching, and insightful memoir. It earns my highest recommendation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Let’s Take the Long Way Home free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of Let’s Take the Long Way Home
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, generously provided by the author.
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