For Andrew McCarthy, hitting the road was a path to home
Andrew McCarthy chews thoughtfully on a red apple, slowly whittling it down to its core. Sitting at a table in the very back corner of the Blvd. restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire hotel wearing a charcoal-colored shirt and dark jeans, he looks contemplative and distant.
Despite his media-dubbed membership in the iconic “Brat Pack” of the 1980s, McCarthy is a loner and has never felt comfortable in a pack. The only pack for him is the backpack he takes with him on his many solitary journeys around the globe for his second career as a well-regarded, award-winning travel writer. It’s this portion of his life that he examines in his new memoir, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down” (Free Press, $26).
The tale revolves around McCarthy’s travels to the Amazon, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Costa Rica and Patagonia, all trips he took as writing jobs directly after becoming engaged to his longtime love and the mother of his daughter, a woman he calls “D” in the book, whose full name is Dolores Rice. McCarthy leaves in order to find himself and become the man he feels he needs to be if he is to fully commit himself to his future wife and his two children (he has a son from his first marriage).
“I was interested in the paradox of trying to find intimacy and connection with another person while going as far away from them as I could possibly get,” says McCarthy, pouring green tea into a cup from a white china pot. “The idea for the book came to me in the back of the cab after we had just gotten engaged and I was leaving for Patagonia. I was all weepy, but the other part of me was absolutely thrilled to be going — and going alone. I thought, ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ ”
Over the six-month course of these journeys, McCarthy comes briefly home here and there. He also Skypes and emails with D, who displays a stunning amount of understanding in the face of her absentee fiance’s quest. She gamely plans their upcoming wedding in Ireland and cares for the children in their New York City home.
“She knows who I am,” says McCarthy, 49, explaining that D understood why he needed to go. “The idea that people need to be together all the time to be a happy couple is ludicrous. I have to have me so we can have us.”
Despite how all this might sound, the book is not the story of a midlife crisis and McCarthy’s careful, often luminous prose doesn’t reveal him to be a man running from commitment, or himself. Home with D is where he ultimately wants to be. We know this because the book begins during the couple’s adventurous honeymoon in Africa so there is no sense that he might dodge the wedding.
“I travel to find out what I’m feeling,” says McCarthy, adding that he is a better version of himself when he’s on the road alone. “And I write to figure it out.”
He has chosen to become a travel writer (with a bit of acting on the side), but McCarthy says that he had no interest in writing a travel book, even though the pages of “The Longest Way Home” are filled with rich descriptions of foreign lands and people.
“I was writing about an internal journey and it played itself out in 3-D,” he says. “In travel writing there’s the story you’re sent to report and then there’s the story behind the scenes, and the latter is always vastly more interesting.”
There are two ways to experience travel: trips and journeys. Trips unfold on tour buses and in cookie-cutter hotels with sights seen and checked off a list. Journeys take a person outside of the comfort zone and into dicey, unfamiliar situations. McCarthy’s book makes clear that his was a journey, one that comes full circle after the wedding at the conclusion of “The Longest Way Home.”
“I lie on the bed watching the breeze blow through the tall cypress tree outside the window ... this view reminds me of the cypress trees down in Patagonia ... it seems a long time ago, my standing by the Catherine River, watching the salmon struggle upstream,” writes McCarthy in the book. “Then, apparently, I laugh out loud.”
At that point D comes into the room in a towel, fresh from the shower and asks McCarthy what’s so funny.
“I was just thinking of Patagonia,” he says.
She asks him if he wishes he were there. “Just the opposite,” he replies, his months of solitary roaming and discovery seemingly resulting in his finally being fully present in his life and relationship.
Asked if he feels the book signals a closure of one portion of his life, McCarthy thinks hard for a moment, his blue eyes directed at an invisible point on the horizon, and nods.
“Yes,” he says, “that’s a journey traveled.”
Andrew McCarthy will be discussing and signing his book Saturday at 5 p.m. at Vroman’s in Pasadena and then in conversation with Patt Morrison at the West Hollywood Book Fair Sunday at 4 p.m. More information: vromansbookstore.com and westhollywoodbookfair.org
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