Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Family Happiness—with its somewhat ironic title—covers six months in the life of its principal character, Polly Solo-Miller Demarest. Polly has never questioned her role in her family, or rather her several roles. She is a dutiful, uncritical daughter to Henry and Wendy Solo-Miller, her two rather difficult parents; a mediator between Henry and Paul, her two eccentric brothers; a devoted wife to Henry Demarest, a man whom she deeply loves, though he too is somewhat difficult; a loving, attentive mother to Pete and Dee-Dee; a paragon of a household manager; and the holder of an important, though part-time, job. A few months before the novel opens, Polly began an affair with a well-known painter of landscapes and portraits named Lincoln Bennett. The novel concerns the ways in which Polly tries to come to terms with herself and her life as the affair forces her to discover some truths about her family, her life, and herself.

The novel consists of a series of scenes and events in Polly’s life, usually in company with one or more members of her family or with her lover. The book opens with a typical family occasion, Sunday brunch, which is a strictly observed ritual. Other scenes show Polly with her husband and, most prominently, Polly’s frequent afternoons and occasional evenings with Lincoln Bennett. Polly is in every scene, usually in conversations and always trying hard to be accommodating, helpful, understanding, and good-humored. Many of the scenes are set at mealtimes, and eating serves as a symbol for the relationships revealed unconsciously on those occasions. Laurie Colwin was a prominent writer on food and its importance in social situations. When writing about food, she is vivid, colorful, and convincing.

From the beginning of her affair with Lincoln, Polly has...

(The entire section is 739 words.)