Gail Caldwell's memoir of friendship

Friendship-2030.jpgFirst aired on The Sunday Edition (12/12/10)

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

Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home is the kind of book that demands your attention from the very first sentence. Caldwell calls it a memoir of friendship. It chronicles her intense relationship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp.

"It took me four years to write that sentence," Caldwell said in a recent interview on The Sunday Edition. "I thought that I would never write about losing Caroline because it was too raw and too primal and without language. And yet it also felt like the only thing, after a while, that I could write about."

When Caldwell and Knapp met in mid-life, they discovered that they shared a great number of things — a deep love for their dogs, writing, rowing and walking in the woods. They also shared a history of alcoholism. According to Knapp, they were soulmates. They became so close that they were often mistaken for sisters, lovers or even for each other.

But then, at the age of 42, Knapp died of lung cancer, and Caldwell was plunged deep into mourning.

In her attempts to come to grips with the devastating loss, Caldwell turned to books. But she didn't find the solace she was looking for. If loss was a universal constant, then where were the words to describe what she was going through?

Caldwell decided to write a series of essays about grief. It was a way to avoid writing about Knapp specifically. Eventually, however, near the fifth anniversary of Knapp's death, Caldwell realized she could no longer avoid the subject, and the essays morphed into a very personal memoir.

It may have been a difficult decision to make, but according to Caldwell, it's also one that allowed her to move through the intense grief to a place where she can celebrate the friendship and not just mourn it.

"The thing that Freud was right about is that if you live through grief you get them back," she said. "I believe that. You get them in some bearable way. The love stays with you even if they're not here."

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