Gail Caldwell 3: more to admire

I.

The way, as I said, that Gail Caldwell employs metaphor in Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship is remarkable. Almost every page includes one.

“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.

II.

Here’s metaphor with another virtue, well depicted: female friendship, which as a man I can only envy, having found most of my friendships with men marred by competitiveness or seeming reluctance to be as vulnerable as Caldwell and Caroline Knapp were with each other.

From the beginning there was something intangible and even spooky between us that could make strangers mistake us as sisters or lovers, and that sometimes had friends refer to us by each other’s name: A year after Caroline’s death, a mutual friend called out to me at Fresh Pond, the reservoir where we had walked, “Caroline!”, then burst into tears at her mistake. The friendship must have announced its depth by its obvious affection, but also by our similarities, muted or apparent. That our life stories had wound their way toward each other on corresponding paths was part of the early connection. 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. . . .

All of this seems as though it were yesterday, or forever ago, in that crevasse between space and time that stays fixed in the imagination. I remember it all because I remember it all. In crisis with someone you love, the dialogue is as burnished as a scar on a tree.

III.

Caldwell’s frankly expository style—she relies on a strong, sure voice first, and blends into scenes—works with her flair for describing the world’s feel and its beauty. This opening echoes The Great Gatsby, with Fitzgerald’s effortless elegance, wistful tone, and intimate voice:

After I had lived in the East for a decade, long enough to winnow the realities from the dreams, I was driving down Brattle Street one winter night at the start of a storm, when the snow was surfing the currents of a soft wind, and I had the dissonant thought that I could grow old here—something I had never thought anywhere before, and certainly not during a New England winter.

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8 Comments

Filed under memoir, metaphor, NOTED, syntax

8 responses to “Gail Caldwell 3: more to admire

  1. Richard,
    I was distracted from your (and Caroline Knapp’s) good words here by the beauty of the photographs. Are they yours? Is the tree bark birch or sycamore? Maybe that hint of Fall dazzles me tonight because a huge, noisy thunder microburst just exploded overhead here in the hot flats of Gulf coast Florida. I’m amazed our power is still on. . .

  2. Forgive my error. I meant Gail Caldwell’s words. Blame it on the thunder, please.

  3. I wish we could teach together — we love the same books, we appreciate the same things. Beautifully done.

  4. What Beth Kephart said. I hope you’ve read her INTO THE TANGLE OF FRIENDSHIP. In any case, you’ve convinced me to explore Caldwell’s THE LONG WAY HOME.

  5. Oh my, Caldwell captures the words and sends them with an arrow’s speed right into my heart. Thanks so much, Richard, for showcasing this fabulous book. Can’t wait for the end-of-summer deliciousness of reading it!

  6. karenalaniz

    Oh how I wish I could write like that. I do think like that. But the words flit through me so thoroughly that I couldn’t begin to write them down. My writing is so much simpler than that. It inspires me though – to try to write about a particular friendship. Hmmm…