I’ve developed a bit of an obsession. It started Thanksgiving Weekend in Burlington, Vermont. Andrew and I had stopped at a barn stuffed with old furniture, mismatched china, broken instruments and fading paintings. It was the kind of place teeming with treasures (see the picture?), and I wanted a souvenir. There was a mildewy shelf of books and I noticed a copy of Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin. I’d read her non-fiction essays about food in Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, and had enjoyed them and her down to earth, comfy writing style, and figured I would probably like her fiction too. So I bought the book for two dollars. At another bookstore later on in the day, I found A Big Storm Knocked It Over for a few bucks. That evening, back in Montreal, I started reading and one story into Another Marvelous Thing I knew I’d hit the jackpot. The next day, on a walk around the neighbourhood, I popped into S.W Welch and found Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. It’s Colwin’s first novel, about a woman who’s husband dies in a sailing accident. As someone who’s first novel is also about a man who dies in a sailing accident, the book felt like a sign. I added it to my collection.
And so I made my way through these books entirely too quickly. I thought it would be fun to find the rest of her bibliography in second hand bookstores on whimsical little weekend adventures, but I got impatient. I ordered more online and got them delivered to my doorstep instead. It’s hard not to read these books without mourning the fact that Laurie Colwin died unexpectedly when she was only 48. I’m trying to pace myself with the ones I have left, but it’s hard.
Colwin’s books are all about love and relationships. They’re set in New York City, although there are forays into the country – Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, upstate New York. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in these stories: heteronormative tales, often (but not always) about privileged families (think: generations of lawyers, spacious apartments in Manhattan for the week and country homes for the weekend). The biggest appeal of Colwin’s books is how warm these stories are, how much affection you have for the characters and their flaws, how much you root for them. Characters have marriages and affairs and babies and existential crises that they often try to keep hidden from the people closest to them. They cook meals for each other. They end up, basically, happy. Her writing is crisp and plainspoken, but, as I noticed in Home Cooking, cozy. (In A Big Storm I dogearred a page with the sentence, “Brilliant red maple leaves as large as demitasse saucers floated down onto the road.”) She also has a knack for throwing in sentences and paragraphs that make you think, Yes!!. (One passage I dog-earred in Happy All The Time was “How wonderful everything tasted, Misty thought. Everything had a sheen on it. Was that what love did, or was it merely the wine? She decided that it was love. It was just as she suspected: love turned you into perfect mush.”)
My favourite book so far has been A Big Storm, but one of my favourite scenes is from her first novel. Towards the end of Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, the main character has realized that she’s deeply in love with the man that she will likely spend the rest of her life with, but despite that love, is on the verge of an affair with a man she’s just met. As a reader, you don’t doubt that she’s found her true love, but you also understand her feelings for the other man. Life, Laurie Colwin’s books say over and over again, is complicated like that. She’s just spent a few pages fretting about this dilemma, and then distracts herself by spending time with some new friends. The three of them sit by a pond, a little drunk, a little stoned, and start singing “That’s How Strong My Love Is” by Otis Redding. It’s hokey, but it’s also magical, the kind of moment that puts everything into perspective. Because, as Laurie Colwin’s books say over and over again, life is also simple like that.