Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

January 7, 2011

Summary: In this memoir, author Gail Caldwell talks of her deep friendship with Caroline Knapp, her struggle with alcoholism, and her love of dogs. An introvert at heart, Gail had a hard time making close friends, though she did have a number of acquaintances. She preferred the company of dogs because she could get companionship without having to sacrifice any part of her daily routine, which she treasured very much. But one day a dog trainer suggested that she get together with Caroline Knapp, a fellow dog-lover whom the trainer said reminded her of Gail. The two spent some time feeling their way around each other at first, and then became the closest of friends.

It definitely helped that Caroline, like Gail, was a writer and that she too loved dogs. The two women spent a great deal of time together walking their dogs or teaching each other swimming and rowing. Hardly a weekend went by when they didn’t do something together. They didn’t even let harsh winter weather or snow keep them indoors. They’d simply grab some Trekking Poles and go for a nice walk in the woods as usual. Then, despite having just spent the entire day together, they would want to take the long way home to give themselves extra time to talk in the car. Then they would go home and call each other on the phone to talk more.

In between talking about this friendship and Caroline’s subsequent battle with cancer, Gail also discusses her own problems with alcohol. She tells of how she would reward herself with drinks whenever she completed a piece of writing and how she looked forward to going back to her room alone so she could have a few drinks and then sleep it off. She eventually sought treatment and learned to give up alcohol — giving her yet one more thing in common with Caroline.

To round out the book there are also many passages in the book about the women’s dogs. How they trained the dogs, how they imagined what breed other people would be if they were dogs, etc.

Liked:

  • I’m a dog person myself, though not to the same degree as Caroline and Gail. As such, I got pretty damn choked up when Gail described Clementine’s death. I especially lost it when Gail revealed how, when she first got Clemmie, she hoped the dog would live at least 13 years. When Clemmie passed that mark (though she would die shortly thereafter), Gail said, “We made it, girl.” Cue the waterworks.
  • I loved anything and everything that had to do with the women’s friendship. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a friendship like Caroline and Gail’s, then I’m sure you can relate. Gail could have been describing my friendship with my best friend from high school. We spent all day together, but that still wasn’t enough so we called each other on the phone and practically talked all night too. That kind of friendship is indeed special.

Disliked:

  • I was disappointed that Gail didn’t spend even more time talking about her friendship with Caroline. I didn’t feel as though I got to know Caroline very well at all from Gail’s limited descriptions. That made Caroline’s death scene (though sad) not as full of impact as it might have been. I got more choked up about Clemmie’s death than Caroline’s, but that should not have been the case.
  • The alcoholism stuff was kind of boring. I’m not sure why it was included to such a detailed degree in this book. It felt like a massive detour crammed into the middle of the story of Caroline and Gail’s friendship, and I ended up resenting the “waste” of those pages that might have been used to tell me more about Caroline.

Rating:

I can respect Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell as a cathartic exercise for the author, but I think she does readers a disservice by always keeping us at arm’s length from Caroline at all times. This is the kind of book where readers should have felt Caroline’s loss acutely after getting to know her in the preceding pages. That didn’t happen, which is unfortunate. I give the book 3 stars out of 5.

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