Closing out the reading year with short stories by Laurie Colwin seems appropriate for several reasons. Looking back. A talented writer died too young of a heart attack in 1992 at the age of 48. She published five novels, three short story collections, and two books of essays on food and cooking that originally appeared in Gourmet and other magazines. She worked as an editor at Viking, Putnam, Pantheon and Dutton. She edited and translated works by Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer.
I just read Another Marvelous Thing (1986), a short book of eight linked stories, which follow the course of an affair between two people who have little in common except that they are crazily in love. As in her other works I've read, Colwin blends closely-observed deep feeling with whimsy and humor. The good will, kindness, and sharp wit are typical of her narrative style. She was a writer much beloved of middle-class New Yorkers, but the personalities she sketches are not so bound up in their setting that they become strangers to readers outside that environment of comfortable, affluent, urban living.
These lovers are not exactly engaged in healthy behavior, but the difference between her stories and so many tiresome contemporary stories about dysfunctional relationships is Colwin’s graceful approach. She expresses an attitude of generous warmth toward her characters that seems to extend to the reader and to the world in general. These stories about rather screwed up, but unexceptional, middle-class characters ring true in every detail. They are entertaining in a gentle way that I am hard pressed to associate with another writer working today. Looking back again, the writer she reminds me of most stylistically--although on the surface their concerns and settings are quite different-- is British writer Barbara Pym.
Four of the stories in this collection appeared in The New Yorker from 1983-85 and are available to subscribers in their online archive: "Swan Song," "Another Marvelous Thing" (spelled with two "ls" for some reason), "Old Flames," and "A Country Wedding." Oddly, the stories appear to be the same, but the first names of the two lovers are different in the magazine and book versions.
Another resolution for 2013 is finally to read some of Colwin’s food writing collected in Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Happy New Year, Dear Readers. May your next year of books be a satisfying and rewarding one.