Andrew McCarthy's The Longest Way Home wasn't the book I expected it to be. It was a pleasant surprise, a touching exploration of humanity that I couldn't put down once I'd started.
I bought the book because I've been a fan of McCarthy's as an actor since high school; as he moved into other pursuits, I found I missed seeing him on my screens and wondered what else he had discovered other than acting. This book seemed as if it would answer that question, and give me some insight into a man whose work I'd loved for so many years.
I was mostly right. The Longest Way Home is an excellent introduction to McCarthy the travel writer and the individual, with his acting career near an afterthought. His previous resume merits only a handful of mentions. Although I knew when I cracked the cover that this was a travel book, as a fan of McCarthy the actor, I couldn't help but wish he'd said a little more about how making the films I enjoyed affected him - if only because his thoughts about everything that is in the book are so honest and so compelling.
This is a perfectly balanced combination of travel diary and documented introspection. While he travels the world, visiting destinations from the Amazon to Mount Kilimanjaro, McCarthy is wondering what in him leads him to keep the people he loves at a distance. That's the short version. Set against exotic backdrops most of us will never visit, this is a man trying to figure himself out, and having the courage to write it down; that the man is famous is of no consequence.
It's admirable just how much of himself he's willing to put forward. We learn about his weaknesses as much if not moreso than his strengths, and he talks about the times when things didn't work, not just the times when they did. His accounting of events is also exceptionally fair: he's neither trying to tear himself down nor to make excuses for any of his flaws. There's a certain touch of dry self-deprecation that's charming, too. This is a straightforward look at the real and complete Andrew McCarthy, not a role he played or a projected image. As far as memoirs go, especially celebrity ones, this is one of the most genuine.
The Longest Way Home also offers glimpses at various locales through the people McCarthy meets on his travels and the knowledge he gains while on each of his trips. He's adroit at talking about local customs and regional history in such a way that keeps the reader engaged, even as he may discuss those for pages at a time. The chapters are long enough to feel immersed in whatever country McCarthy is currently in, but not so long that the reader loses interest.
While the travel writing is solid, it's McCarthy's telling of his own individual story that is the best part of The Longest Way Home. There are a lot of well-written books out there, but the best are the ones that make us richer for having read them, and this is one of those. As McCarthy's self-discovery unfolds, we can understand and relate to it, because while we may not be in his specific position, we all have our own frames of reference for what it means to be someone's child, parent, friend, or significant other. In turn, that prompts us to ask the same questions he's posing to himself. I finished the book in an hour and a half, and then spent at least that long contemplating what I took away from it.
While I'm still curious what he'd say about some of his movies, and certainly still wish I'd see him in more of them, having read this book I have a deeper respect for Andrew McCarthy, and a feeling like I know him better than I did before.
Though it may not be for the casual reader, The Longest Way Home is a worthwhile read for those who enjoy stories of world travel, those who contemplate the bigger picture, and fans of McCarthy alike. While I'll always enjoy his acting, now I can say he has won me over as an author as well.