Sunday, October 19, 2014

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Motivation for reading:

A few months ago Jessica Smock co-editor of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendshipand My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends recommended Gail Caldwell’s book Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendshipin response to my query for a list of her favorite nonfiction books covering friendship.*

What is Let's Take the Long Way Homeabout?

In my post Recovering From the Loss of a Friendship I wrote about reading the book My Other Exwhich was about friendship breakups. This book is also about friendship loss but from losing a friend through the worst possible scenarios – death. Here is the first sentence in the book:
It's an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.
Synopsis from Amazon: 
They met over their dogs. Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story) became best friends, talking about everything from their love of books and their shared history of a struggle with alcohol to their relationships with men. Walking the woods of New England and rowing on the Charles River, these two private, self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with cancer.

My thoughts:
I read this book while on a much needed vacation. As I sat outside my rented cabin, I held this book in one hand while keeping my journal nearby. While reading, I took frequent breaks to write and reflect in my journal on my life, my experiences with my own friends and on grief. Here are some of the passages that led to greater contemplation:
I also had my first sense of something central about Caroline that would become a pillar of our friendship. When she was confronted with any emotional difficulty, however slight or major, her response was to approach rather than to flee. There she would stay until the matter was resolved, and the emotional aftermath was free of any hangover or recrimination. My instincts toward resolution were similar: I knew that silence and distance were far more pernicious than head-on engagement. This compatibility helped ensure that there was no unclaimed baggage between us in the years to come. (Pg. 28)
As an ISFJ, I am incredibly conflict adverse, so in most conflict situations with friends, family and co-workers I tend to flee or shut down rather than to approach. In the few situations I have approached I was always rewarded with greater understanding and a better relationship in the long-run.
It's taken years for me to understand that dying doesn't end the story; it transforms it. Edits, rewrites, the blur, and epiphany of one-way dialogue. Most of us wander in and out of one another's lives until not death, but distance, does us part-- time and space and heart's weariness are the blander executioners or human connection. (Pg. 123)
Suffering is what changes the endgame, changes death’s mantle from black to white. It is a badly lit corridor outside of time, a place of crushing weariness, the only thing large enough to bully you into holding the door for death. (Pg. 143)
Then I realized something else they don’t tell you in the instruction books for mourning: that we only fret about the living. I might well grieve Caroline for all my days, but I wasn’t worried about her anymore. (Pg. 174)
The real trick is to let life, with all its ordinary missteps and regrets be consistently more mysterious and alluring than its end. (Pg. 180)
Bottom line:
This book fed my soul more than any book I’ve read this year, so I was surprised to learn other reviewers on goodreads did not care for it. They felt Caldwell spent too much time writing about her own life, her own alcoholism and her dog and not enough about her friendship with Caroline. Perhaps it is because I can relate to both Carolyn and Gail; I am also an introvert, married late, have a former roommate who is an alcoholic and became a dog owner later in life that I loved this book just the way it is. Or perhaps this book came along at a time when I needed to do some soul searching of my own. All and all I enjoyed it and hope to read more of Caldwell’s books.

*Other friendship books recommended by Jessica Smock:

She Matters: A Life in Friendshipsby Susanna Sonnenburg

The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendshipsby Kelly Valen

Friendshipby Emily Gould. This one is fiction, but is about workplace interactions and friendship, as well as career choices and writing. (Hmm... I might make this one a future book club selection)

Have you read Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell? If so what were your thoughts? Do you have a favorite book about friendship?

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  1. I love it when I find books just when I seem to need reading them. Thanks for sharing this book with us, I found My Other Ex gave me an eye opening look at my own friendships. It sounds like this one is worth a read too.

  2. And now I cry allnover again. I shared everything with her. Yet i felt like I carry her death alone with me

  3. Tanya,
    It was worth it for me. So much to think about and reflect on.

  4. Raymanda,
    I am so sorry for your loss. There is nothing I can say to help take the pain away of losing your friend. I hope you can find some comfort in the book. If you read it perhaps this is one that requires small doses. HUGS!

  5. I have not read this book, or the Recovering from Loss book yet either (it's alllways checked out at the library!) but I can speak to finding books at that perfect moment. I feel that way sometimes about songs, too - the ones on the radio that pop on at the exact moment you need them do.

    Divine intervention? Coincidence? Little fairies making everything happen behind the scenes?

    Whatever the reason, I don't want it to stop. I love that you found a book to speak to your heart and fill up your needs as well as this one did. Maybe you could write the author and tell her so! There is no greater compliment to a writer than a reader who appreciates your words :)