Let's Take the Long Way Home/Gail Caldwell: Reflections

Sunday, September 12, 2010

If there was ever a book I wanted the moment I heard of its existence, it was this one. 

If there was ever a book that conformed to my abstract idealization of it, it was, again, this one—Gail Caldwell's finely crafted, thoroughly beautiful, absolutely heartbreaking Let's Take the Long Way Home.  This is, of course, the story of Caldwell's dear friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp—the story of long walks taken with beloved dogs, of the glass face of rowed-upon water, of pasts and imperfections and desires entrusted, one to the other, of a cancer diagnosis and of a death, Caroline Knapp's, when she was at the prime of her life  and the center, in so many ways, of Caldwell's world.

Home is a memoir filled with perfectly wrought particulars:  "I often went out in early evening, when the wildlife had settled and the shoreline had gone from harsh brightness to Monet's gloaming, and then I would row back to the dock in golden light, the other scullers moving like fireflies across the water."  But it is also a memoir so wise and teaching, so fundamentally true ("...it was possible to walk through fear and come out scorched but breathing") that it occurrs to me that anyone who has ever suffered loss—which is to say anyone at all—should buy this book and keep it near for all the wisdom it has to offer. 

For that is what Home has most abundantly to offer—hard, lived-in wisdom for souls who lose and hearts that break.  Home is not a tale about how Caldwell survived the loss of her best friend, though Caldwell has survived.  It is instead both instruction and allegory on the power of kindness and small gestures, the fidelity of friendship and memory, the tenacity and tenuousness that make us our own complicated people in need of other complicated people.  Caroline Knapp is no longer here; she isn't.  But because Caldwell has written such an exquisite book, she can now be found, by all of us, in the bright, ephemeral gloaming. 


Sarah Laurence said...

I can see why this book moved you so. I can’t imagine the pain of losing my writing crit. partner/friend in my small town.

Lovely photo too.

KFP said...

Of course I must go out and buy this now. It sounds so gorgeous and necessary.

Florinda said...

This book was already on my wishlist - I may have to cut down on the wait time for it, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it!

Linda Pzz said...

I am reminded of Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty which I read this summer. Now, a good friend is dealing with a cancer diagnosis...will need to find this book! I'm new to your blog, but look forward to begin a regular visitor. I plan to join the online discussion group in October. thanks.

Lilian Nattel said...

What a beautiful phrase, "scorched but breathing." Thank you for the review.

Wendy said...

You captured this book beautifully here, Beth. I, too, loved this book for its beauty and simplicity; for its wisdom.

Becca said...

I loved Caroline Knapp's work, and have read every bit of it. She has a way of reaching right in and touching my heart.

I was already longing for this book. Now I know I must have it.

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