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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell, 2010, * * * *

Caldwell (A Strong West Wind) has managed to do the inexpressible in this quiet, fierce work -- create a memorable offering of love to her best friend, Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story) who died of lung cancer at age 42 in 2002.  The two met in the mid-1990s and Caldwell said that finding Caroline was "like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend and then having her show up at your door funnier and better that what you had conceived".  Both single, writers, and living alone in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Caldwell was then book critic for the Boston Globe), the two women bonded over their dog runs at Fresh Pond Reservoir, traded lessons in rowing (Knapp's sport), and swimming (Caldwell's sport) and shared stories, clothes, and general support as best friends.  Morevover, both had stopped drinking at age 33 and both had survived early traumas  -- Caldwell had polio as a child and Knapp suffered anorexia. Their attachment to each other was deeply and mutualy satisfying. Unfortunately, Caldwell's health began to falter in March of 2002 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  She died in June of that same year. Caldwell is unflinching in depicting her friend's last days and writes of her own grief and desolation with moving grace. Gail Caldwell presents a raw emotional account of what it is like to have a best friend say goodbye far before her time, but the story is less about loss and more about the triumphant life these two shared together as best friends and confidantes.  Their friendship teaches us that the importance of relationships is not just in having them, but in developing them with the people that complement us best.  The book is a remarkable story about the intersection of two kindred spirits.