From GAIL CALDWELL
The Washington Post
You can shelve “Let’s Take the Long Way Home,” Gail Caldwell’s beautifully written book about the best friend she lost to cancer in 2002, next to “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion’s searing memoir about losing her husband to heart failure. But that’s assuming it makes it to your shelf: This is a book you’ll want to share with your own “necessary pillars of life,” as Caldwell refers to her nearest and dearest.
What’s the draw in reading about “unspeakable sorrow”? Well, despite Caldwell’s assertion that “the only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course,” sensitive portraits of love and loss stir our nobler, empathic feelings, reminding us of our possibilities — and realities — as human beings.
Actually, Caldwell’s book is more heartwarming than devastating. It’s about the joys of friendship as much as the ravages of “intolerable loss.” She evokes the sort of soul mate most of us yearn for. A Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for the Boston Globe, Caldwell writes of meeting Caroline Knapp, a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, in the mid-1990s: “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.”
They certainly had a lot in common: Both writers were exercise fanatics who were single by choice and temperament and worked at home. Each lived alone in Cambridge, Mass., with a beloved dog. Both were high strung, sensitive and thin. Caldwell, nearly nine years older, had grown up in the Texas Panhandle and survived not just a “family tree [with] a root system soggy with alcohol,” but childhood polio that left her with a limp. She had “given up a lot of what didn’t work,” including cigarettes, and was disturbed that Knapp, who had beaten anorexia and was the daughter of a Cambridge psychoanalyst, continued to smoke until shortly before her diagnosis with stage four lung cancer…