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Friendship by the Book: Let’s Take The Long Way Home

Published: August 16, 2010 | Last Updated: January 22, 2024 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading

It’s rare that I simply gush over books but I fell in love with Gail Caldwell’s newest book: Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (Random House, 2010). As sleepy as I was reading the last pages in bed, I didn’t want the book to end and it’s one of those books I’ll read over and over again.

When someone is crunched for time, as most of us are, why take the long way anywhere instead of a shortcut? If you’ve ever been lucky enough to feel so close and so comfortable with a friend that you never have enough time to spend together, you’ll understand why and you’ll resonate to the story of the powerful bonds between the author and her best friend, Caroline Knapp.

The book begins, “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.” While the loss of a best friend to Stage IV lung cancer sounds maudlin, it’s only incidental to the beautiful story of love and connection that is the essence of this book.

An accomplished writer, recovering alcoholic, rower, dog lover, private person, single, and self-described introvert, Caldwell was 46 years old when she met Knapp, who was 37. In mid-life, they both found kindred spirits whose lives had many parallels.

“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. Apart we had each been frightened drunks and aspiring writers and dog lovers; together, we became a small corporation,” writes Caldwell. The two became part of each other’s family of choice. The mix of similarities and differences both anchored the friendship and enriched their relationships with the larger world around them, personal and professional.

What Caldwell does best is to describe the indescribable, finding words that aptly translate the essence of friendship for those of us who often fumble trying to do so. Her prose is simply beautiful and her wisdom so insightful that it leaves the reader with indelible memories and life lessons.

She reflects on her first misunderstanding with her friend as a “testing ground and gateway for intimacy.” Later, she writes about the friendship: “Our trust allowed for a shorthand that let us get to the point quickly.” Characterizing their changed relationship when her best friend becomes critically ill, she describes it as a “choreography of silence.” Despite its poignant ending, the Caldwell-Knapp friendship will make you envious—but it will also help you realize that friendships like this are, indeed, possible.

Caldwell writes after Knapp’s death, “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.” The same might be said about how the reader will emerge after reading this touching memoir of friendship.

A former chief book critic of the Boston Globe, Gail Caldwell is also the author of A Strong West Wind and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 2001.


Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship lessons.


Several other recent posts on The Friendship Blog touched upon the topic of losing a best friend. These include:

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Category: Death

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  1. judymarie says:

    If you read “Drinking a Love Story” and then “Pack of Two” and then “The Merry Recluse” and maybe “Alice K’s Guide to Life”, this book gives some closure on the life and death of the great memoirist Caroline Knapp. I was immersed in her work for several years, and always wanted that last chapter. This wonderful story gives us that.

  2. This sounds good book which shows meaning of real friendship. I want to read this book soon. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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