It's rare that I gush over books but I fell in love with Gail Caldwell's newest book: Let's Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (Random House, 2010). As sleepy as I was reading the last pages in bed, I didn't want the book to end and it's one of those books I'll read over and over again.
When someone is crunched for time, as most of us are, why take the long way anywhere instead of a shortcut? If you've ever been lucky enough to feel so close and so comfortable with a friend that you never have enough time to spend together, you'll understand why and you'll resonate to the story of the powerful bonds between the author and her best friend, Caroline Knapp.
The book begins, "It's an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too." While the loss of a best friend to Stage IV lung cancer sounds maudlin, it's only incidental to the beautiful story of love and connection that is the essence of this book.
An accomplished writer, recovering alcoholic, rower, dog lover, private person, single, and self-described introvert, Caldwell was 46 years old when she met Knapp, who was 37. In mid-life, they both found kindred spirits whose lives had many parallels.
"Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you had conceived. Apart we had each been frightened drunks and aspiring writers and dog lovers; together, we became a small corporation," writes Caldwell. The mix of similarities and differences anchored the friendship and enriched their relationships with the larger world around them, both personal and professional. The two became part of each other's family of choice.
What Caldwell does best is to describe the indescribable, finding words that aptly translate the essence of friendship for those of us who often fumble trying to do so. Her prose is simply beautiful and her wisdom so insightful that it leaves the reader with indelible memories and life lessons.
She reflects on her first misunderstanding with her friend as a "testing ground and gateway for intimacy." Later, she writes about the friendship: "Our trust allowed for a shorthand that let us get to the point quickly." Characterizing their changed relationship when her best friend becomes critically ill, she describes it as a "choreography of silence." Despite its poignant ending, the Caldwell-Knapp friendship will make you envious---but it will also help you realize that friendships like this are, indeed, possible.
Caldwell writes after Knapp's death, "I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures." The same might be said about how the reader will emerge after reading this touching memoir of friendship.
A former chief book critic of the Boston Globe, Gail Caldwell is also the author of A Strong West Wind and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 2001.
Several other recent posts on The Friendship Blog touch upon the topic of losing a best friend. These include:
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