Colwin, Laurie (Vol. 13)
J. D. O'Hara
Last summer a handful of people who follow the whims of publishing were dining elegantly at the proper end of Long Island and speculating whimsically on coming trends in the novel biz. Recognizing that existential Angst, oppression of minority groups, uncloseting of homosexuals, feminism, s & m, and incest were beginning to pall, the group searched for a new thrill. Goodness! they exclaimed, and conjured up a novel at the climax of which a couple sat holding hands and beaming as their child graduated from an excellent college, with distinction.
Sure enough, the next Sunday's Times Book Review carried a two-page ad for a novel whose theme, hushedly announced, was Friendship. But the new movement didn't peak until Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time appeared, shining cheerily even through the murk of the newspaper strike. The novel tells about two perfectly normal young men, friends but straight, who meet, woo, and wed perfectly normal young women, one of whom produces a perfectly perfect baby…. Everyone here really is happy all the time. Luckily for Colwin and the story, however, they don't realize it, and they spend most of the novel engaging in low-level kvetching. Colwin's skill at making this whining witty, her creation of young women whom—who?—most young women would want to be, and her clear, straightforward prose style make a comic success out of this unpromisingly uplifting material. (p. 231)...
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Two young men court and wed two young women in this breezy novel [Happy All the Time], and all comes right with the world. Though little else of note occurs, Laurie Colwin's characters are so fresh and likable, and she tells her story with such wit, that the reader, amused and disarmed, wouldn't think of accusing her of undue sentimentality.
Guido Morris and Vincent Cardworthy, cousins and best friends, are undeniably the stuff of which Wodehouse heroes were made. They are good-natured, generous, and old-fashioned in love; both work at rather silly jobs; both are held in willing enslavement and perpetual confusion by the strong-minded women they fancy….
But their difficulties are minor, quickly overcome, and the foursome exits drinking a toast to their happiness present and future. The author of Passion and Affect and Shine On Bright and Dangerous Object has delivered in her third book a lighthearted, genuinely funny treat for the romantically minded. (p. 114)
Martha Spaulding, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1978 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), October, 1978.
(The entire section is 175 words.)
[Happy All the Time is an] elegant, fresh, funny tale of four people in love…. Colwin is a wonderful, knowing writer; her sentences are quick with information and wit. Her book conjures up Manet's picnic painting as it might be reinterpreted by Koren. But gently: Comedy is the other face of High Romantic passion, but love and friendship count. There's electricity here—nothing dumb—pure delight. (p. 136)
Eliot Fremont-Smith, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), October 9, 1978.
(The entire section is 86 words.)
Laurie Colwin's approach in Happy All the Time is to elbow right past the agonizing…. Her characters do not suffer their thirties; they use them, like people who've received a new, vaguely untrustworthy, but intriguing gift…. First as graduate students in Cambridge, Mass., then as professionals in New York, [Guido and Vincent] go looking for future wives in the refreshingly blithe belief that "one is always foolish until one is correct"—the carefully polished attitude we used to get from the high-spirited, tuxedoed boy/men of Forties movies. (p. 63)
It's bright, it's funny, and it's very very willful; Colwin is out to invent not only a Seventies comedy of manners but the manners themselves. What makes the book special fun are the tartly endearing reversals: The girls are close-to-the-vest and tentative, while the slightly boobish boys roll with the punches, secure in their eagerness to love, attend, and do their full duty. Colwin writes effervescently—if the book has a flaw, it's that there is a sludgy build-up of adorable-ness. But a thirtyish book it remains. The personal, dependent on quick wits, good will, and high hopes, is still the lifeboat. (p. 64)
Ross Feld, in Saturday Review (© 1978 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), October 10, 1978.
(The entire section is 206 words.)
We've been waiting, haven't we, for a writer with glad gifts? By which I mean a writer with delicacy, affection and wit to sing for us the well-adjusted joys of the on-the-whole-quite-happy-thank-you life…. Well, Laurie Colwin's "Happy All the Time" is our chance; and I hereby wish my fellow fortunates joy of our collective self-image.
It's a lovely book: I mean it. The people in it are nice and better than nice. Laurie Colwin writes a sentence of porcelain-like clarity, to use an adjective she favors. Her book has the elegance called Mozartian—pretty themes, memorable melodies. The four people in it are a kind of quartet, a counterpoint of character-types, and their effect is harmony. If I found myself hoping, halfway through, that a busload of underprivileged kids with tommy-guns would disembark in the novel's sunny landscape, this should perhaps be chalked up to some morbid restlessness of my own.
Here are the details. Like all smiling social comedies since "As You Like It," "Happy All the Time" features two couples, men and women deeply right for each other if only they would realize it; which they do, in plenty of time to toast each other's happiness in the last scene. There are Vincent and Misty, Guido and Holly. They all have been to good schools, wear clothes well and have enough money. They all have settled into a good career by age 30 or so, except Holly…. The crisis, such as it is, comes when...
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Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time miraculously, uncloyingly describes two happy couples who enjoy their lives; this delicious book has the sweetness of Così Fan Tutte without its shadows….
Conditioned by literary experience, we read edgily at first, suspecting all the pleasantness, waiting for the terrible blow to fall. It doesn't. Gradually we relax and yield to the celebration of healthy relationships, benign pleasures, and creature comforts, for which it is possible to develop an agreeable and pleasing appetite…. Such pleasures would be objectionable if they were totally bland, but [Colwin] produces the literary equivalent of the anchovy—a prickly character, a threatening event—to relieve the sweetness.
Aristotle ennobled the digestive metaphor when he spoke of the catharsis of tragedy. Indeed the signal characteristic of great art may be its power to trouble the viscera, and our greatest artists may continue to be dyspeptic. Still, there is no intrinsic superiority in a bad digestion and a cranky temper. Let a comfortable word be said for the artist of cheerful, eupeptic disposition. (p. 83)
Frances Taliaferro, in Harper's (copyright © 1979 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; excerpted from the April, 1979 issue by special permission), April, 1979.
(The entire section is 193 words.)