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...
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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….
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[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.
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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...
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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...
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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...
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