The book's subtitle is "A Memoir of Friendship." Why it is not
simply "A Memoir," and what does this say about the book as a
whole? Whose story, at heart, would you say this is?
Caldwell writes, "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." She goes on to describe
their "tatting center," and the secret codes that tied their lives
together. To what degree do you think the strength of a friendship
depends on being able to disappear into an imaginary world
together, to develop a secret code that only the friends
understand? How do you see this playing out in Let's Take the
Long Way Home? What about in your own life?
Gail and Caroline have a great deal in common, but they also
have very different personalities. There is a darker edge to their
friendship, too: Caldwell calls it a "swampland," "the world of
envy and rivalry and self-doubt," the competitiveness between the
two women in their writing, on the water, and in life. In what ways
are they similar, and in what ways different? Do you think these
elements strengthen or weaken their bond?
Both Gail and Caroline have relationships with men, and yet the
core of their friendship seems to contain a singular intimacy of
the kind that exists between women. Does that bond call
to mind friendships or relationships in your own life?
In a scene on the Harvard University sports fields, Caldwell
says, "We used to laugh that people with common sense or without
dogs were somewhere in a warm restaurant, or traveling, or
otherwise living the sort of life that all of us think, from time
to time, that we ought to be living or at least desiring." One of
the things Gail and Caroline discuss in the course of their
friendship is whether they are "living their lives
correctly"-whether they are taking full advantage of the time they
have. Do you think there is a "correct" way to live, and if so,
what do you think should dictate the priorities? Is it realistic to
try to avoid wasting time, or is that necessary to "correct
living"? Do you think Let's Take the Long Way Home offers
any kind of answer to this question?
"What they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is
the simple part." What do you think Caldwell means by this?
In what ways does Clementine's arrival change Gail's life, on
both a practical and an emotional level? She compares dog ownership
to having children, but makes the point that "this mysterious,
intelligent animal I had brought into my life seemed to me not a
stand-in, but a blessing."
As the author is struggling to overcome her alcoholism, she has
two conversations that help change the way she sees the world and
her experiences. In one, a therapist tells her that "If…I could
keep only one thing about you, it would be your
too-muchness." Later, her alcoholism counselor, Rich, says,
"Don't you know? The flaw is the thing we love." Do
you agree? Can you think of examples, in the book or in your own
life, that prove or disprove these ideas?
Let's Take the Long Way Home doesn't have a memoir's
traditional, chronological narrative structure. How do you think
this contributes to the effect and emotional impact of the book
overall? Does it reflect the nature of the friendship itself? Could
Caldwell have told her story any other way?
Do you see Gail, as a character, change in the course of the
book-having discovered, and then lost, both Caroline and
Clementine? What would you say she has gained?
Caldwell tells a moving anecdote about using the "alpha roll"
while she is training Clementine. It is a technique meant to
establish the dog owner's authority, but it doesn't work at all on
the mischievous puppy; as she continues to try and fail, Caldwell
suddenly sees a parallel between her own childhood relationship
with her father and senses that the whole approach is wrong. "From
that moment on, everything changed between us. Wherever I danced,
she followed." What lessons might we all learn from this
Loss is at the center of the book -we know from the first
several pages that Caroline will die -and Caldwell writes about the
new world without Caroline in it, where she experienced rage and
despair and "the violence of time itself." Does her
description of grief mirror any of your own experiences?
Caroline and Gail have a private game in which they assign a dog
breed to each person they know. For fun, what kind of dog would you
be? What about your best friend? Your worst enemy?