The first book I ever read by Laurie Colwin was her 1978 novel, Happy All the Time. I remember being struck by the title -- I wasn't especially happy at the time because of boyfriend trouble -- and I was looking for something cheering. Colwin's story of the courtships of two young couples proved to be that and much more. Although Guido and Holly, Vincent and Misty weren't happy all the time, they weathered their ups and downs with brave hearts, and book's end found them raising their glasses "to a truly wonderful life."
I shared this book with friends and gave it as gifts. I also sought out Colwin's previous works, her 1975 first novel, Shine On Bright and Dangerous Object, about a woman widowed in her 20s, and her 1974 collection of stories, Passion and Affect, in which I was delighted to find the blueprints for Happy All the Time in two tales. From then on, friends and I kept an eye out in magazines such as The New Yorker for Colwin's stories, which were collected in 1981's The Lone Pilgrim. The last story in that book -- perhaps my favorite of all Colwin's works -- was "Family Happiness," which became a novel of the same name in 1982.
Four years later, a group of linked stories about two mismatched lovers was published as Another Marvelous Thing, and four years that came the novel Goodbye Without Leaving, in which Geraldine Coleshares, after having danced around a stage in a fringed charteuse dress as the lone white backup singer for a black rock 'n' roll group, must decide what to do for an encore. Is it possible to "act like regular person and still boogie in your soul?"
The novel is quintessential Cowin -- smart, funny, well-written and a pleasure to read and reread. In fact, I am rereading it now, not only because I could do with something cheering, but as a sort of homage. Laurie Colwin died of a heart attack on Oct. 24 at her home in Manhattan. She was 48.
By one of those ironic coincidences, a friend an I were talking about Colwin last weekend, unaware of her death. In addition to writing fiction, Colwin also was a food columnist for Gourmet magazine, and a collection of her columns, including such classics as "Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant" and "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir," was published in 1988's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen. My friend lives in Philadelphia, where the weather is getting nippy, and she was in the mood to cook something warm and sustaining.
"I think I'll try that recipe for beef stew in Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking," my friend said. "She says if you follow the instructions exactly it will come out perfect. I trust her."
My friends and I all trusted Colwin, and not just to tell us how to make great beef stew. Her stories and novels, we agreed this week, got us through some tough times. They charmed us with their compassion and intelligence. They held out for hope and happy endings. "She was like a funny best friend," my Philadelphia pal said last week. Added a friend and fellow fan here, "She understood us."
None of us had ever met Colwin except through her writing. But we felt as if we knew her from those stories. We knew that she liked animals and small children, quilts and pretty plates, family and friends, men who were good dancers and good kissers. We knew that she loved music, from classical greats like Boccherini and Brahms, to rock 'n' roll legends like the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. She knew all the words to the Crystals' "He's a Rebel." She loved to read, and to cook.
According to the obituary in The New York Times, Colwin has two forthcoming books from HarperCollins: More Home Cooking and a fiction work, A Big Storm Knocked It Over. Her fans will look forward to them, even as we mourn her passing. Meanwhile, my friend is making beef stew and I am rereading Goodbye Without Leaving. And we'll both be raising our glasses to a truly wonderful writer.
From The Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, Florida. Sunday, November 1, 1992. Page F-10.