Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Happy All the Time

Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, reviewed
Recommended to Nancy by: after I read a book of her short stories, I sought out and read all her novels
Recommended for: readers who love a smart novel written by a smart, generous writer
Read 3 times. Last read December 12, 2012.

Happy All the Time
By Laurie Colwin

I love Laurie Colwin. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I love her books, but she is one of those authors whom you feel you know through her books, especially as she wrote several books of food essays as well as five novels and two books of short stories. Unhappily, she died in 1992 when she was only in her early forties, and the tributes written by her readers (you can find them on the web) show how greatly she is missed.

Happy All the Time begins like this:

“Guido Morris and Vincent Cardworthy were third cousins. No one remembered which Morris had married which Cardworthy, and no one cared except at large family gatherings when this topic was introduced and subjected to the benign opinions of all. Vincent and Guido had been friends since babyhood. They had been strolled together in the same pram and as boys were often brought together, either at the Cardworthy house in Petrie, Connecticut, or at the Morris’s in Boston to play marbles, climb trees, and set off cherry bombs in trash cans and mailboxes. As teenagers, they drank beer in hiding and practiced smoking Guido’s father’s cigars, which did not make them sick, but happy. As adults, they both loved a good cigar.”

Now in their late twenties, Guido and Vincent both find the loves of their lives in the pages of this novel, which is largely what the book is about - the unexpected complexities and delights of love. Perhaps I like these books because love is a marvel to the author and her characters - they are alternately baffled and elevated by their feelings, but they never fall into the clichés of the romance genre.

After making love to his eventual wife, Holly, for the first time, “Guido felt quite wiped out by sensation. Everything seemed uncommonly rich to him: the print on the sheets, the pattern on the quilt, Holly’s gleaming hair and earrings.” Holly herself “was an only child, an only grandchild, and she was nearly perfect. She had her own ways, Holly did. She decanted everything into glass and on her own long kitchen shelves were row upon row of jars containing soap, pencils, cookies, salt, tea, paper clips, and dried beans.”

Vincent’s love interest is quite different. Misty Berkowitz thinks of herself as a sea urchin: prickly on the outside to hide her soft, mushy interior, but she is unable to resist Vincent. “Now, as she walked slowly back to her office, the world looked askew. Intelligence had nothing to do with this at all. The jig was up. She was in love.”

This is such an enjoyable book to read. The characters are intelligent and quirky, they have interesting and unusual jobs and witty conversations, and they still feel like real people. The author loved life and I always finish her novels - and any of her writing - feeling both intellectually stimulated and emotionally mellowed.
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