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Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship (Anglais) Relié – 10 août 2010

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Chapter One

I can still see her standing on the shore, a towel around her neck and a post-workout cigarette in her hand—half Gidget and half splendid splinter, her rower’s arms in defiant contrast to the awful pink bathing suit she’d found somewhere. It was the summer of 1997, and Caroline and I had decided to swap sports: I would give her swimming lessons and she would teach me how to row. This arrangement explained why I was crouched in my closest friend’s needle-thin racing shell, twelve inches across at its widest span, looking less like a rower than a drunken spider. We were on New Hampshire’s Chocorua Lake, a pristine mile-long body of water near the White Mountains, and the only other person there to watch my exploits was our friend Tom, who was with us on vacation.

“Excellent!” Caroline called out to me every time I made the slightest maneuver, however feeble; I was clinging to the oars with a white- knuckled grip. At thirty-seven, Caroline had been rowing for more than a decade; I was nearly nine years older, a lifelong swimmer, and figured I still had the physical wherewithal to grasp the basics of a scull upon the water. But as much as I longed to imitate Caroline, whose stroke had the precision of a metronome, I hadn’t realized that merely sitting in the boat would feel as unstable as balancing on a floating leaf. How had I let her talk me into this?

Novice scullers usually learn in a boat three times the width and weight of Caroline’s Van Dusen; later, she confessed that she couldn’t wait to see me flip. But poised there on water’s edge, hollering instructions, she was all good cheer and steely enthusiasm. And she might as well have been timing my success, fleeting as it was, with a stopwatch. The oars my only leverage, I started listing toward the water and then froze at a precarious sixty-degree angle, held there more by paralysis than by any sense of balance. Tom was belly-laughing from the dock; the farther I tipped, the harder he laughed.

“I’m going in!” I cried.

“No, you’re not,” said Caroline, her face as deadpan as a coach’s in a losing season. “No you’re not. Keep your hands together. Stay still— don’t look at the water, look at your hands. Now look at me.” The voice consoled and instructed long enough for me to straighten into position, and I managed five or six strokes across flat water before I went flying out of the boat and into the lake. By the time I came up, a few seconds later and ten yards out, Caroline was laughing, and I had been given a glimpse of the rapture.

The three of us had gone to Chocorua for the month of August after Tom had placed an ad for a summer rental: “Three writers with dogs seek house near water and hiking trails.” The result of his search was a ramshackle nineteenth-century farmhouse that we would return to for years. Surrounded by rolling meadows, the place had everything we could have wanted: cavernous rooms with old quilts and spinning wheels, a camp kitchen and massive stone fireplace, tall windows that looked out on the White Mountains. The lake was a few hundred yards away. Mornings and some evenings, Caroline and I would leave behind the dogs, watching from the front windows, and walk down to the water, where she rowed the length of the lake and I swam its perimeter. I was the otter and she was the dragonfly, and I’d stop every so often to watch her flight, back and forth for six certain miles. Sometimes she pulled over into the marshes so that she could scrutinize my flip turns in the water. We had been friends for a couple of years by then, and we had the competitive spirit that belongs to sisters, or adolescent girls—each of us wanted whatever prowess the other possessed.

The golden hues of the place and the easy days it offered—river walks and wildflowers and rhubarb pie—were far loftier than what Caroline had anticipated: She considered most vacations forced marches out of town. I was only slightly more adventurous, wishing I could parachute into summer trips without having to fret about the dog or shop for forty pounds of produce. Both writers who lived alone, Caroline and I shared a general intractability at disrupting our routines: the daily walks in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the exercise regimens we shared or compared, the meals and phone calls and hours of solitary work that we referred to as “our little lives.” “Paris is overrated,” Caroline liked to claim, partly to make me laugh; when she met a friend of mine one evening who was familiar with her books, he asked if she spent a lot of time in New York. “Are you kidding?” she said. “I hardly even get to Somerville.” Wedded to the sanctity of the familiar, we made ourselves leave town just to check the vacation off the list, then return to the joys and terrors of ordinary life.

I have a photograph from one of those summers at Chocorua, framing the backs of my dog and Caroline’s, Clementine and Lucille, who are silhouetted in the window seat and looking outside. It is the classic dog photo, capturing vigilance and loyalty: two tails resting side by side, two animals glued to their post. What I didn’t realize for years is that in the middle distance of the picture, through the window and out to the fields beyond, you can make out the smallest of figures—an outline of Caroline and me walking down the hill. We must have been on our way to the lake, and the dogs, by now familiar with our routine, had assumed their positions. Caroline’s boyfriend Morelli, a photographer, had seen the beauty of the shot and grabbed his camera.

I discovered this image the year after she died, and it has always seemed like a clue in a painting—a secret garden revealed only after it is gone. Chocorua itself has taken on an idyllic glow: I remember the night Caroline nearly beat Tom at arm wrestling; the mouse that sent me onto the dining room table while she howled with laughter; the Best Camper awards we instituted (and that she always won). I have glossed over the mosquitoes, the day Caroline got angry when I left her in a slower-moving kayak and rowed off into the fog alone. Like most memories tinged with the final chapter, mine carry a physical weight of sadness. What they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is the simple part.

The two of us rowed, together and in tandem, for five years after that first summer. We both lived near the Charles River, a labyrinthine body of water that winds its way through Greater Boston for nine miles, from upper Newton through Cambridge and into Boston Harbor, with enough curves and consistently flat water to be a mecca for rowers. Because Caroline was small in stature and could body-press more than her own weight, I got to calling her Brutita, or “little brute.” The boathouses we rowed out of were a couple of miles apart, and I could recognize Caroline’s stroke from a hundred yards away—I’d be there waiting for her near the Eliot Bridge or the Weeks Footbridge by Harvard, ready to ply her with questions about form and speed and where to position one’s thumbs. When she went out hours ahead of me, she fired off unpunctuated e-mails as soon as she got home: “hurry up the water is flat.” We logged hundreds of miles, together and solo, from April to November; she endured my calls, in those first couple of summers, to discuss the mechanics of rowing: “I want to talk about thrust,” I would say, with insane intensity, or, “Did you know the human head weighs thirteen pounds?” “Ummmm-hmmmm?” she’d answer, and soon I would hear a soft click-click in the background—evidence that she had begun a game of computer solitaire, her equivalent of a telephonic yawn. At the end of the day, when we walked the dogs, we compared hand and finger calluses (the battle scars of good rowing) the way teenage girls used to compare tans or charm bracelets; because she was and always would be the better rower, I accepted her continual smugness and vowed to get even in the pool. One year for Christmas I gave her a photograph from the 1940s of two women rowers in a double at Oxford, England. She hung it on a wall near her bed, above a framed banner that read zeal is a useful fire.

Both pictures hang in my bedroom now, next to the photograph of the dogs. Caroline died in early June of 2002, when she was forty-two, seven weeks after she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. In the first few weeks in the hospital, when she was trying to write a will, she told me she wanted me to have her boat, the old Van Dusen in which I’d learned to row and that she had cared for over the years as though it were a beloved horse. I was sitting on her hospital bed when she said it, during one of those early death talks when you know what is coming and are trying to muscle your way through. So I told her I’d take the boat only if I could follow rowing tradition and have her name painted on the bow: It would be the Caroline Knapp. No way, she said, the same light in her eyes as the day she had taught me to row. You have to call it Brutita.


Before one enters this spectrum of sorrow, which changes even the color of trees, there is a blind and daringly wrong assumption that probably allows us to blunder through the days. There is a way one thinks that the show will never end—or that loss, when it comes, will be toward the end of the road, not in its middle. I was fifty-one when Caroline died, and by that point in life you should have gone to enough funerals to be able to quote the verses from Ecclesiastes by heart. But the day we found out that Caroline was ill—the day the doctors used those dreaded words “We can make her more comfortable”—I remember walking down the street, a bright April street glimmering with life, and saying aloud to myself, with a sort of shocke...

Revue de presse

“A near-perfect memoir: beautiful, humble, intimate and filled with piercing insights.  Meant to be savored and shared.”

“Stunning…gorgeous....intense and moving….A book of such crystalline truth that it makes the heart ache.”
--The Boston Globe
“[Let’s Take the Long Way Home] left me intensely moved….Caldwell’s greatest achievement is to rise above [death and loss] to describe both the very best that women can be together and the precious things they can, if they wish, give back to one another: power, humor, love and self-respect.”
--Julie Myerson, The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
“[A] beautiful book….The losing isn’t the exceptional part of this story; everyone loses something, sooner or later.  The wonder lies in finding it in the first place.”
“A tribute to the enduring power of friendship….You can shelve Let’s Take the Long Way Home…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….A lovely gift to readers.”
--Washington Post
“[Their] relationship nurtured and inspired Caldwell and Knapp, and in reading about it, we feel enriched as well.”
--Chicago Tribune, Editor’s Choice

“A heartbreaker of a memoir….With humor and sadness….Caldwell gracefully weaves a thread of stories that describe and ponder friendship and loss.”
--USA Today

“Acutely observed and beautifully written….If you have tears, prepare to shed them….What an astonishing friendship.  What great women.  What a stellar, unforgettable book.”
--The Huffington Post
“A testament to the art of female friendship—and its necessity.”
“Revelatory, joyous and inspiring…. Intensely moving, without a hint of sentimentality, Let’s Take the Long Way Home…should be read and cherished.”
--The Bark Magazine
“High-spirited and heartrending.”

“Moving….As much an elegy as a remembrance of shared joys.”
--Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Eloquent….A moving account of Caldwell’s grief for her friend.”
--Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Caldwell’s graceful account ensures that Knapp will be remembered not just for her tragic death but for her vigorous, rich life.”
--Parade Magazine
“Gail Caldwell knows a thing or two about good writing….Sure to appeal to anyone who has ever experienced true friendship.”
--The Daily Beast
“Poignant and powerful…Caldwell writes with deep feeling, but without sentimentality, about [a] life-altering friendship.”
--Kirkus Reviews
“Luminous….spare but wrenching….[Readers will] find themselves moved by Caroline, and will almost certainly be moved to tears.”
“A gripping mix of confession, elegy, and resolve….An adroitly distilled memoir of trust, affinity, and love.”
“Savor the this hard-hitting portrait of a friendship.”
--AARP The Magazine
“Caldwell has managed to do the inexpressible in this quiet, fierce work: create a memorable offering of love to her best friend, Caroline Knapp….Caldwell is unflinching in depicting her friend’s last days, although her own grief nearly undid her; she writes of this desolating time with tremendously moving grace.”
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Caldwell has not lost her journalistic bite or brilliance in seeing things as they are.”
--Providence Journal
“There are as many shadings to our griefs as there are lost loves to grieve over.  Friendship, as Gail Caldwell's memoir gracefully testifies, asks a special, liberating eloquence.”
--Richard Ford, author of Independence Day
“So lovely and somehow, so precise in it's wisdom. i feel lucky to have met this graceful, piercing book.”
--Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place
“Gail Caldwell portrays the experience of having a best friend with an unsentimental and unflinching dissection, richly mining a connection between two women built on conversations, experiences, and dreams.  Let’s Take the Long Way Home is an intimate reflection on one of the great gifts life can offer--that of a best friend.”
--Lee Woodruff, author of In an Instant
“An exquisite testament to the bittersweet depths of love and loss. If you've ever had a soul mate, whether human or canine, this book was written for you. If you haven't, this honest and liberating  memoir will help you find one.”
--Patricia B. McConnell, author of For the Love of a Dog
“Out of a great loss, Gail Caldwell has fashioned a great gift: an intimate memoir that somehow contains everything that really matters about life. Lucid, elegant, passionate, wise, and enormously moving – a book of rare and memorable beauty.”
--Joan Wickersham, author of The Suicide Index

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19 octobre 2010
Format: Relié

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5,0 sur 5 étoilesHeartwarming, honest, and well written!
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5,0 sur 5 étoilesThis book surely took me "home"
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4,0 sur 5 étoilesLove, loss and honesty
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