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Laurie Colwin still making us laugh

05 Apr 2010
Posted by Shannon

This week Vintage re-issued two of my favourite books by of one of my favourite authors, Laurie Colwin, whose comic novels and charming food writing have earned her a cult following long past her 1992 death.

Colwin is often compared to Jane Austen because, as male critics tend to say of them both: nothing ever happens in their novels. That’s nonsense of course. They’re both satirists with a gimlet eye for human eccentricities. There is much going on these tales of interpersonal relationships.

But it is true that both writers chronicle the essentially happy lives of the gentry – although Colwin’s gentry live in New York in the 1970s. These are people for whom there are no tragedies more profound than a tedious job or a broken heart. And it’s a curious thing, but extramarital affairs in Colwin’s novels always seem so wholesome. There’s never a hint of the tawdry. Which you might think would take the fun out of having an affair, but apparently not in the Colwinverse.

She captures the slightly absurd experience of falling in love in the brightest of her five novels, Happy All the Time. There’s a passage in which the hero Guido finally wears down the woman of his dreams and finds himself in her apartment enjoying what is a obviously a shrine to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Holly decants everything into glass jars: soap, pencils, cookies, salt, and paper clips. Her shoes are stuffed with pink tissue. She can tell when one of her arranges is a smidgen off and fights the urge to straighten pictures in other people’s homes.

But we see her through the eyes of her newly-smitten lover, who concludes that “She was an only child, an only grandchild, and she was nearly perfect.”

I laugh every time I read it.

Home Cooking is collection of gently funny food essays that seem entirely out-of-character for Gourmet, the bible of food snobs where they first appeared. They have titles like “Alone in the Kitchen with and Eggplant” and “Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir”. It’s the ideal read for melancholy Sunday afternoons alone, with rain.