Andrew McCarthy is a familiar face to anyone who grew up in the '80s, for his film work with the "Brat Pack" and beyond, with contributions to movies that have entered American pop culture — Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire, and Weekend at Bernie's. McCarthy has been acting steadily since his first film, in 1983, Class, which co-starred Jacqueline Bisset. But what some may not be aware of is that McCarthy is also a director (a short film and television) and has found a second career as an award-winning travel writer, contributing articles to such publications as National Geographic Traveler (where he is an editor-at-large), Travel+Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Slate.
His new book, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down combines his flair for writing about exotic locales with his personal quest to commit to marrying his long-time girlfriend.
The Longest Way Home is an interesting combination of memoir and travel writing. McCarthy is engaging whether he is telling stories about his childhood in New Jersey, his early Hollywood success, trying to conquer his demons, or recounting his trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
McCarthy is unfailingly honest as he confronts his fear of commitment. He had already been married and divorced, an although deeply in love with his new partner, is wary of taking the next step towards marriage. Prone to self-examination, he realizes that he has always been a bit of a loner and an outsider, and doesn't want to repeat his previous mistakes of distancing himself from his wife and family. As he and his fiancée plan their upcoming nuptials, he accepts a series of travel assignments, which at first may seem like an escape from home and planning their wedding, but which actually helps him confront his fears and prepare him for his future life with her and their children.
He takes the reader along with him as he walks the route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, hikes across a glacier in Patagonia, travels the Amazon via boat, explores Baltimore with a close friend, and climbs Kilimanjaro. Most of McCarthy's traveling is done solo. He doesn't tend to want to share his travel experiences with others — his trips are more personal quests. Most of the time he feels rather separate from the world he is visiting. After strolling by houses in Patagonia with families crowded around the TV or doing some domestic chore he observes:
"I've seen similar scenes in small towns in Brazil and Cambodia and even the American West — lives being lived with unselfconscious deliberateness. There's no desire, or no energy, to pretend anything. I see desperate disappointment and loneliness in such scenes of domesticity and routine. I feel far removed and want no part of them. Yet I can't look away. What hunger of theirs is being fed, when they seem to me instead like scenarios of slow decay? What is it about these scenes that I don't understand?"He is always interesting in his descriptions of the sights he sees, finding hidden treasures in unfamiliar and familiar places. A visit to Baltimore and the house where Babe Ruth was born is an opportunity for McCarthy to talk about one of his favorite things — the home as micro museum. He first visited such a museum with his first wife in Stockholm, Sweden — playwright and novelist August Strindberg's house.
"What I feared would be a dreary and dull hour proved be a fascinating look inside the writer's life. His desk and chair, his pens and notebooks and letters, his eyeglasses and walking stick, relics of his life, proved fascinating. I have sought out home museums ever since."
The more McCarthy travels, the more he finds himself being pulled towards people, and wanting to involve his family in this part of his life. As the book progresses, he's no longer quite the loner that he used to be. Readers will enjoy taking this journey with McCarthy, and may be tempted to plan some soul-searching travel of their own.