Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review: "The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down" by Andrew McCarthy

I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I was first drawn to Andrew McCarthy's new book because he starred in two of my favorite 80s movies, St. Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink. The truth is, however, about a year or so ago I read an article he wrote on Ireland for Bon Appetit magazine, and I remembered being impressed with his writing ability.

While I may have come to McCarthy's book partially because of my nostalgia for most 80s-related things, it was his writing ability, and his insights into the appeal of travel and why he is more comfortable being alone—even while surrounded by strangers—that made me keep reading. But don't be taken in by the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert on the book's cover—while McCarthy meditates on love and relationships, and does eat throughout the book, this is no male version of Eat, Pray, Love.

McCarthy is unable to commit to his fiancée of nearly four years, and doesn't quite understand why. He recounts always being a somewhat ambivalent person; while he initially fell in love with acting in high school and felt truly alive onstage, he never really imagined himself a successful actor, and once his career started taking off, he found himself at odds with this success. (It's interesting to find out the characteristics that most intrigued me about McCarthy's acting—his ambivalence, his vulnerability, his shyness—were actually real-life personality traits, not dimensions of his characters.) At one point he recounts that he saw acting as a terrific way to meet women, travel, and drink to excess.

At a crossroads in his life, and at risk of jeopardizing his future by alienating the woman he loves, he sets out to try and find the answer to what causes his fear of commitment, of showing his true self to people. He begins traveling to places both exotic and remote—the glaciers of Patagonia, the rainforests of Costa Rica, the heart of Amazonian country, Mt. Kilimanjaro, even one of his best friend's childhood hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

As he travels, McCarthy recounts what events in his life shaped him to be the type of person he is, how his somewhat strained relationship with his father has affected the way he parents his children, how his fear of failing after one divorce has impacted his relationship with his fiancée, and he realizes how much he needs what he desires most—a loving wife and family. This book is part travelogue, as he shares risky adventures, breathtaking sights, and encounters both enriching and bizarre with the people he meets along his journey, and part memoir of self-discovery.

McCarthy says, "In life there are dividing lines. These moments become a way to chart our time; they are the signposts for our lives." That quote is a fairly accurate description of The Longest Way Home. Andrew McCarthy is a writer with great talent, one who truly made the anecdotes of his travels come alive, and his use of imagery really evoked pictures in my mind. But at times, McCarthy's ambivalence, his reticence to disclose his feelings, even to the woman he loves, was a little frustrating. You almost want to shake him from time to time, to warn him he needs to find his answers quickly or his whole life could fall apart. That melodrama aside, this is an insightful, enjoyable book that makes you see travel, and why people do it, in a very different way.

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