Book Review: Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Description from the publisher:

“It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.”

So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.

They met over their dogs. Both writers, Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story, became best friends, talking about everything from their shared history of a struggle with alcohol, to their relationships with men and colleagues, to their love of books. They walked the woods of New England and rowed on the Charles River, and the miles they logged on land and water became a measure of the interior ground they covered. From disparate backgrounds but with striking emotional similarities, these two private, fiercely self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen.

The friendship helped them define the ordinary moments of life as the ones worth cherishing. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

With her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion and grief in this moving memoir about treasuring and losing a best friend. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a celebration of life and of the transformations that come from intimate connection—and it affirms, once again, why Gail Caldwell is recognized as one of our bravest and most honest literary voices.

This book really got me.

It reminded me a lot of the film Once, which is centered on the idea that in life, it is extraordinarily rare to meet someone with whom we have a true, effortless connection. And that, for many people, it only happens once.

Much is said and written about romantic connections and familial connections, but less emphasis is placed on friendships, especially as we get older. This book serves as a touching tribute to the importance that friendship can have in a person’s life, and the overwhelming grief that occurs when it’s gone.

I picked this book up because I’ve recently experienced the ending of a close friendship that spanned close to two decades of my life. “Let’s take the long way” was something we used to say to each other when we walked around together, talking about everything and nothing. I hoped this book would offer some advice regarding how to gain closure, but instead I found myself caught up in the friendship of Gail and Caroline, and mourning their loss of their dogs and each other almost as much as I’ve mourned my own loss. Though I knew how the story would end, I wished so badly that there would somehow be a surprise ending where Caroline lived and their friendship could resume. And I came away with the realization that sometimes closure is something other than what we expect and hope for. I was reminded of one of my favorite Jeanette Winterson quotes:

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the cliches that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?

I really loved this book, and recommend it to anyone who has ever lost anyone, whether it was to death or simply to the ebb and flow of life.

Book Review: The Arsonist by Sue Miller

Description from the publisher: Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for 15 years, Frankie Rowley has come home-home to the small New Hampshire town of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Is it an accident, or arson? Over the weeks that follow, as Frankie comes to recognize her father’s slow failing and her mother’s desperation, another house burns, and then another, always the homes of summer people. These frightening events, and the deep social fault lines that open in the town as a result, are observed and reported on by Bud Jacobs, a former political journalist, who has bought the local paper and moved to Pomeroy in an attempt to find a kind of home himself. As this compelling book unfolds, as Bud and Frankie begin an unexpected, passionate affair, arson upends a trusting small community where people have never before bothered to lock their doors; and Frankie and Bud bring wholly different perspectives to the questions of who truly owns the land, who belongs in the town, and how, or even whether, newcomers can make a real home there.

I really liked the first half of The Arsonist, but the second half sort of deflated and I found myself wishing I stopped reading it so I could have finished another library book that was due on the same day. The characters were interesting enough, but the story never really went anywhere. I think the author intended the fires and arsonist to be a metaphor or some type of symbolism, but I’m still not entirely sure for what. It’s almost as though Miller began writing based on a thoughtful concept and an interesting premise, but had no clue how to successfully execute them or how to conclude the story. Overall, it was a pretty disappointing read.

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Description from the publisher: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I cannot adequately describe how lovely and poignant this book is, so I will simply say that you should absolutely read it and be prepared to be moved to your very bones. Despite how sad it became at times, I wanted it to last and last, but couldn’t put it down, so as I neared the end, I found myself rereading passages to prolong my time with the interweaving stories. All the Light We Cannot See will undoubtedly be the most beautiful book I read this year.

Link Love

Here are my favorite things I found around the internet this week:

Happy perusing and happy weekend!

Stuff You Missed in History Class: The Dyatlov Pass Incident

One of my favorite podcasts featured one of my favorite conspiracy stories!

In 1959, nine students ventured into the Ural mountains for a ski hiking trip, and never returned. While much speculation has swirled for more than half a century, no one knows for certain what caused them to abandon their camp to die in the cold.

While many have argued that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for what happened to the hikers, conspiracy theories abound regarding the states of the bodies when found, the radiation traces on their clothing, the likelihood (or lack thereof) of paranormal and/or extraterrestrial activity, and the reaction of the Russian government to the investigation.

The incident has inspired films, books, documentaries, and overall creepiness. Which makes this podcast an ideal listening experience for my aforementioned desire to scare myself this month.