Let’s Take The Long Way Home – Book Review

It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and we shared that, too. -from the ARC of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, page 1-

Years ago I read Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp which is a memoir about Knapp’s recovery from alcoholism and the dog that helped her through it. I remember at the time being unable to put the book down for long. Knapp wrote with an honesty and insight that pulled me into her world…and her relationship with her dog Lucille resonated with me.

Gail Caldwell was Knapp’s best friend. They were drawn together through their mutual love of dogs (in Caldwell’s case a Samoyed named Clementine), their similar battle with alcohol and a need that neither one knew they had at the time…to find a friend who would balance their own strengths and weaknesses.

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. – from the ARC of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, page 13 –

When later Knapp was diagnosed and quickly succumbed to metastatic lung cancer, Caldwell was faced with what seemed the impossible – to go forward with her life without her best friend at her side. Caldwell’s memoir encapsulates the years of friendship she shared with Knapp – the long walks with their dogs, the hours of rowing on the Charles River in Boston, the late night phone calls – and the grief Caldwell waded through when Knapp died. But it is also a story about the importance of friendship in our lives, the depth of love we have for others (people and animals alike), and the risk of loss when we decide to love another.

Caldwell’s prose is wise and elegant. The passages she shares about her relationship with Clementine made me laugh and cry. When she wrote about bringing her puppy home for the first time, I felt my heart clench with memory of when I first brought Caribou into my life.

After the first sleep deprived  twenty-four hours of her invasion, I sat on the  back porch with her sprawled  asleep in my lap – she has white eyelashes! I thought – and tears started streaming down my face. I had had animals all my life, but never had my heart been seized with such unequivocal love. – from the ARC of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, page 37 –

I consumed this slim book in just over 24 hours, often with tears flooding my eyes. I could not seem to stop turning the pages even though dread sat on my shoulders. This was a tough book to read in many ways – sad and heartbreaking. But don’t let that stop you from reading it. It is also confirmation of the human spirit and our strength in the face of what feels like unbearable loss. We have all had loss in our lives – people who have been ripped from our lives before their time, spouses who have walked out on us, pets who have died – and it always feels insurmountable. Caldwell’s memoir is about surviving loss and moving forward; about embracing life; and about the special friendships that come into our lives when we least expect it but need them the most. This book is about taking risks of the heart and about discovering one’s inner strength.

Maybe this is the point: to embrace the core sadness of life without toppling headlong into it, or assuming it will define your days. The real trick is to let life, with all its ordinary missteps and regrets, be consistently more mysterious and alluring than its end. – from the ARC of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, page 180 –

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a book which will stick with me. For those readers who are not afraid to open their hearts and immerse themselves in another person’s pain, but also their joy, this book is a must read.

Please note: Let’s Take the Long Way Home is due for release from Random House August 10, 2010 but can be pre-ordered now.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as an Advance Readers Copy for review on my blog.

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    • Kathy on February 17, 2010 at 14:28

    This sounds so good, but I’d have to be in the right mood to read it and also make sure I never read it in public.

  1. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention! In some ways, the premise sounds a little like Ann Patchett’s TRUTH AND BEAUTY (also “a memoir of friendship”).

    I also read and liked Caroline Knapp’s PACK OF TWO several years ago, and it sounds like Caldwell’s book will click with me on several levels. I’ll have to remember to look for it once it becomes available.

    • Megan on February 17, 2010 at 15:03

    This sounds like a beautiful book. I love the passages you chose to share. Thanks for the great review!

  2. The title puts in my in mind of my favorite Norah Jones’ song, The Long Way Home.

    • Jenners on February 17, 2010 at 16:59

    Thanks for the wonderful review. I could see this being an important book to help people through the grieving process. I think I’ll look into it at some point. I think I have/had Knapp’s book “Drinking: A Love Story” but I haven’t read it yet.

  3. I have one of Knapp’s books too that I haven’t read (The Merry Recluse). And as Florinda mentioned, this one made me think of Truth and Beauty (which I loved). It’s going on my wish list!

    • Wendy on February 22, 2010 at 07:40

    Kathy: I finished it sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant – I’m sure people walking past my car were thinking “Poor lady, I wonder is she’s okay”….

    Florinda: Since you are such a dog person, I think you’ll love the book. I haven’t read Patchett’s memoir … will need to put that one on my list to check out!

    Megan: You’re welcome – it really is a beautifully wrought memoir.

    Bellezza: I LOVE Norah Jones…I hadn’t thought of that song, but you’re right!

    Jenners: I do think this would be a good book for those people who have recently experienced a loss – it is beautifully written.

    Avis: Well, now that TWO people have mentioned Truth and Beauty, I really need to find that book! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  4. You said it’s slim–how long is it?

    • Wendy on February 24, 2010 at 16:35

    J.T. – My ARC was 186 pages.

  5. This is one I know I have to read. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Wendy. It’s going on my wishlist.

    • Wendy on March 3, 2010 at 07:59

    Les: Read it with some tissues at hand! I’ll look forward to your thoughts on it.

    • Sheila Huggins on October 17, 2010 at 22:37

    I had read every book of Caroline Knapp’s. It started with “Drinking, A Love Story”. I felt she wrote my story in that book. And then I started “Alice K’s Guide to Life” , then “Pack of Two” … I felt Caroline Knapp was speaking directily to me in so many things….. when she died, i felt like I had lost a friend…. my daily jounal is still written as if I’m talking to her….Dear Caroline,,,,,,,,, but now to have her best friend write a memoir … how wonderful… I’m sitting down tonite with my brand new copy, I cannot wait. Thanks so much for your review.

    • Wendy on January 6, 2011 at 07:00

    Sheila: You’re welcome – I hope you enjoyed this book, although given how you feel about Caroline Knapp, I am sure this was a tear jerker for you!

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