They had actually briefly met once before at a writers’ event some years earlier, but on this day, their real journey begins, as they walk their dogs.
They connect on many levels: Gail Caldwell, the author of this memoir of friendship, is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer; Caroline Knapp had written a book that chronicled her struggles with alcohol. First they connect over their love of dogs and then with their writing journeys and their loneliness. Later, Caldwell will also share her own odyssey with alcohol.
Caldwell grew up in the Texas Panhandle and then fled to various cities before finally settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Knapp grew up. In midlife, they have both settled in here and this is where their friendship journey takes off.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship circles from when they met back to their various separate journeys and reveals a bit about their relationships, their successes, their challenges—and then zeroes in on the time they begin the friendship. What happens after the friendship has cemented itself is the biggest challenge they will face together: Knapp’s diagnosis of Stage Four lung cancer. That particular challenge will require all the strength they each have, but will also show the solidity of their friendship.
Through the days and nights leading up to Knapp’s death, we are gifted with those thoughts and feelings that only someone on this particular journey can feel. Afterwards, we visit the loss, the challenges, even the events related to the dogs…and these moments carry us into the very heart of those feelings. Near the end of this tale, Caldwell writes something that I found wonderfully true: “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures. Sometimes I think that the pain is what yields the solution. Grief and memory create their own narrative….”
And then Caldwell begins again, but as with all memorable friendships, she is forever shaped and altered by the bonds that connected the two of them.