Introduction

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Colwin, Laurie 1945–

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Colwin is an American short story writer and novelist. Her subject is the nature of human love, and her tone is one of abiding optimism. (See also CLC, Vol. 5.)

J. D. O'Hara

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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)

J. D. O'Hara, in New England Review (copyright © 1978 by Kenyon Hill Publications, Inc.), Vol. I, No. 2, Winter, 1978.

Martha Spaulding

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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.

Eliot Fremont-Smith

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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.

Ross Feld

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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 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.

John Romano

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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 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 Holly picks up and leaves on an unannounced, indefinite vacation the very day she tells Guido she's pregnant. Though he's not very disconcerted—no one is very anything here—he does at least threaten to become unhappy.

It's at such a pass as this that one feels that Laurie Colwin's china shop is badly in need of a bull…. None of [the male spouses of my acquaintances], I hope, would be satisfied, as Guido is, by the amiable lack of profundity he's offered by Misty, his best friend's wife, when he goes to her with his confusion….

Misty herself is a self-styled "scourge of God," which means in context that, unlike the three others, she doubts (a little) that we're all having a swell time. She has an expression on her face that Vincent calls "the only Jew at the dinner table." As for Vincent, whereas Guido is too analytical, it's feared that Vincent isn't analytical enough. My own opinion is that no one in this dollhouse of a book has anything to worry his little head about. Laurie Colwin is not going to let bogeymen—erotic or fiscal or even psychological—move in next door.

So you're going to enjoy this book, because it's charming and funny, but I warn you that you may feel, from page to page, like "the only Jew at the dinner table." Nor is this mere grouchiness. Happiness itself, after all, is a complex and volatile state; it has less to do with brightness and neatness than with energy and desire. Laurie Colwin's art—and art it is, and a joy—gives the impression that it's just plain afraid of energy and desire. Without them, the happiness she can portray must ring, for the Analytical, a little thin. (p. 14)

John Romano, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 19, 1978.

Frances Taliaferro

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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.

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Colwin, Laurie (Vol. 23)