Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: LET'S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, by Gail Caldwell

Let's Take the Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell. Published 2010 by Random House. Audiobook by Tantor Media. Narrated by Joyce Bean. Nonfiction. Memoir.

A couple of years ago, Let's Take the Long Way Home was a bit of a local it-book, written by Boston Globe writer and Pulitizer Prize winner and author of A Strong West Wind: A Memoir, Gail Caldwell, about her long friendship with the late Boston writer Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story, and Pack of Two, both memoirs. I was sort of vaguely aware of it and vaguely interested, mostly because I remember how much I enjoyed Knapp's column in the Boston Phoenix for most of my teen years. I didn't know much else about her, but that she was a recovered anorexic and alcoholic. I didn't know anything about Caldwell but lots of my local friends raved about this book, so when I found it on audio I thought it would be a good choice for my bus commutes.

It's a lovely, elegaic book, a document of a beautiful and committed friendship between two women, two writers and two dog-lovers. Knapp and Caldwell met briefly professionally; they got to know each other when a mutual friend suggested that as neighbors, they walk their dogs together. Caldwell was the owner of a Samoyed named Clementine; Knapp's dog was Lucille, and the two women began a long and deep friendship that ended with Knapp's death of lung cancer in 2002.

Caldwell's book covers time before and after her friendship with Caroline, her grief at her friend's death and her slow march alongside death as she tries to find a peaceful place beside it. The two womens' devotion to their dogs plays a large part in the narrative and Caldwell describes the bond she had with Clemmie very beautifully. She also talks about how Knapp taught her to row, and one of the most moving passages in the book details the last trip she made with Knapp's boat after her death.

Other people figure in the narrative too, most importantly Knapp's boyfriend (later husband), photographer Mark Morelli, but it's really about Caroline and Gail and the times they had. I found the book to be a very readable (listenable?) tribute to friendship and meditation on loss, and I'm so glad I finally picked up this wonderful book. Joyce Bean does a fine job narrating and I'm glad I decided to listen rather than read the print version. I think Bean's voice is exactly the one I would have given Caldwell in my head.

I recommend Let's Take the Long Way Home to readers of memoir and especially for readers interested in Boston and the Boston writing community, and for dog lovers, too, and for those experiencing loss. It was a memorable and moving work.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.