Destination: Various Book: The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy (NEW September 2012) This travel memoir surprised me. That’s a good thing. The Longest Way Home started out with three strikes again it:
- Andrew McCarthy was a movie star (St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink and lots of other sensitive young man roles in the 1980’s and 90’s) before he wrote about travel. I generally do not like books by celebrities since publishers buy them for the author’s name instead of the content.
- The subtitle tipped me off that this is one of those “all about me” books disguised as travel.
- I’m supposed to be sympathetic with a famous wealthy person, who publishes in national magazines and has won two Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism. His biggest problem is marrying a woman he loves–the mother of his children–the woman whom he has been living with for seven years. Really?
But McCarthy somehow managed to make me set aside my predisposition to–what?–jealousy, maybe?
It took me a while to get into The Longest Way Home, maybe because the first couple of chapters are “me story” than “travel story.” Once McCarthy gets his foot in the door at National Geographic Traveler by a long wooing to friendship of the editor-in-chief, Keith Bellows, he has a legitimate excuse to exercise his wanderlust. And the NGT assignments led to other national magazines. See, here is where my jealousy raises its ugly head. It took me more than ten years of querying, begging and cajoling to get published in NGT and when I did the articles were short–not features. Furthermore, I could not afford, and NGT did not offer to pay for a trip to a far-off destination like Patagonia. When I pull myself up and look at the book honestly, I must say that McCarthy had a smart approach. And lest every wanna-be contributor descends upon Keith Bellows and buys him a drink, I will warn you. It will not work unless you can actually write and write well. Furthermore, I must say, in regard to The Longest Way Home, that McCarthy is not only a brave and adventurous traveler, but he is also brave and adventurous in sharing his life the way he does. There is, after all, a saying (with many variants) :”Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein and bleed on the page.” McCarthy’s wise Irish fiancé, “D”, gives him plenty of room to roam although she clearly is not happy with the perpetual postponement of a wedding. When McCarthy is preparing to flee to Patagonia, she says:
I found a poem by Hafiz today that reminded me of you, want to hear it? It’s called “This Place Where You are Right Now.”
“This place where you are right now/ God circled on a map for you...”
Once he gets to Patagonia and describes incidents and people–I started to find the book enjoyable. Here is an excerpt from a really wonderful paragraph describing a ride across an Argentine lake and his feelings about it:
The metamorphic rock glistens. The boat passes a small blue iceberg–an orphan from the Upsala Glacier. It feels too warm for snow, yet snow begins to fall A rainbow forms on my right: an austral thrush darts past, just above the whitecapping glacier milk… the wind ripping across my face, the spray from the lake biting my skin, and the rapidly changing light are so exhilarating that it’s difficult to breathe. I’m aware of storing the moment away, like an emergency supply of food.
Andrew McCarthy’s enthusiasm for places is contagious. I love the way he reveals his awe and vulnerability instead of presenting a cool, sophisticated demeanor. His trips–travel assignments and marriage avoidance–take us to the Amazon, Costa Rica, Vienna, Baltimore and Mt. Kilimanjaro. With each story he unravels a bit more of his personal story and he comes closer to understanding his own angst. Of course, the author totally won me over with his story of why he wanted to go to Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a book. As a child, he saw a copy of Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro with its cover picture of the famous mountain. He says:
I knew that one day I would go…this is a date I’ve had with myself since I was ten.
Although he has not convinced me to love the soul-searching branch of travel memoir in general, and I could have done with less of existential angst and more of the travel stories, The Longest Way Home is well worth the read. Please join a discussion here. (Click over to the website if you’re reading this in your e-mail.) Andrew McCarthy says that travel can be a form of infidelity. Have you ever felt that you have double purposes for travel? And how do you feel about the travel memoirs that focus on personal problems and a search for solutions? Note: The publisher provided this book for review, but my opinions are definitely my own. The Patagonia photo comes from Flickr.com with Creative Commons license. Please click on a photo to learn more about the photographer. The portrait of Andrew McCarthy is from his web page. Links from the book title and cover take you to Amazon because I am an Amazon affiliate. Even though it costs you no more, you are supporting A Traveler’s Library when you shop through our links. THANK YOU.