Review: New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell


love Gail Caldwell.

I first realized this while reading Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, which is about the death of her best friend, fellow memoirist Caroline Knapp. (You can read that review here. Or the review of Caroline’s memoir here.) She just seems so down-to-earth, wise, insightful. She’s overcome her share of hardships. She’s interesting. As I believe I mentioned in my review of Let’s Take the Long Way Home, I feel I have a lot in common with Gail. Both lovers of books, dogs, and solitude, I think in a different life we would have been good friends.

I wasn’t sure what New Life, No Instructions was about; the flap text was very vague and danced around the book’s actual premise without stating it directly. So, I’ll tell you here: this memoir is about Gail’s hip replacement surgery. Which, to be honest, does sound less than exciting when I say it like that. But the story is about much more than that: her childhood polio; her new dog, Tula; her mother; her rowing. It’s a beautiful memoir about support systems, human-canine relationships, physical decline, and healing. It’s about reorienting yourself, your perspective, and your life when things change–when you get a new dog, when you lose a friend or a parent, or when your bum leg is lengthened.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sixty years old and getting your own hip replaced or twenty-five with perfect joints; there’s something in this memoir for everyone.


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