From its first publication, A Long and Happy Life has been recognized as the start of a major literary career, showing a promise of talent that Reynolds Price has continued to make good on to this day. Robert Drake, writing in the Southern Review, noted that the book “stood out like a beacon of light, or, at the least, a breath of fresh air” among other works of the time that were more programmatic or that relied on sexuality to be interesting. Noted literary critic Granville Hicks told readers, “I have seldom read a first novel that had such sustained lyric power as Reynolds Price’s A Long and Happy Life: not pretty, pseudo-poetic prose but a vigorous, joyful outburst of song.”
As Price’s career progressed, his works were well-received, but critics continually return to his first novel as being, if not his best, then among his best. Theodore Solotaroff began a 1970 review of Price’s career by observing that “Eight years ago Reynolds Price, then twenty-nine years old, published a first novel . . . which immediately established him as the legitimate heir of the great southern writers of the past generations.” He went on to characterize the writer’s career up to that point as “complex,” with novels and plays of varying quality, though always interesting.
The characters in A Long and Happy Life were continued by Price in two more novels and a play, none of which impressed critics as much as the original novel.