Colwin tells extraordinary stories about ordinary people

I didn’t discover the transcendent writing of Laurie Colwin until after she had died in 1992, much too young at 48. I picked up a copy of Home Cooking at a used bookstore and was transported by the way she matched domestic subjects with flights of linguistic poetry. I’ve been on the lookout for her other books ever since, and some time ago I picked up Long Pilgrim, a 1981 short-story collection.

One of the techniques I use with story collections is to jot a one- or two-sentence reaction in a notebook at the end of each story, so that even when it takes me nearly a year to finish the book, I can jog my memory of the earlier stories. These are the notes I took for this book, along with a sprinkling of my favorite quotes:

  • The Lone Pilgrim — A young single woman prides herself on being the ideal houseguest for her married friends — until she falls in love herself.
  • The Boyish Lover — How can a love affair between two attractive graduate instructors who seem to be made for each other possibly go wrong?
  • Sentimental Memory — My post-reading summary in this case was just a quote: The trouble with second marriages is rather like the trouble with new shoes: They don’t fit the way your old ones did. They pinch in places you are not used to feeling pinched in.
  • A Girl Skating — Bernadette, daughter of professors at a small liberal-arts college, finds herself the target of the benevolent obsession of the campus’ celebrated resident poet.
  • An Old-Fashioned Story — Nelson and Elizabeth, whose parents have plotted their entire lives to make them fall in love, do everything they can to resist.
  • Intimacy — An encounter with the man she loved before she married causes Martha to reflect on where her loyalty — and her faithfulness — really lie.
  • Travel — Marguerite accompanies her husband on his travels despite a fear of flying, believing that it is shared memories, no matter how traumatic, that make a marriage.
  • Delia’s Father — Georgia contemplates crossing the divide between childhood and adulthood in the company of her friend’s exotically foreign father.
  • A Mythological Subject — Nellie, a woman who prides herself on her sense of order and morality, is torn apart when she falls in love with a man not her husband.
  • Saint Anthony of the Desert — A young woman who describes her personality as “haphazard” mistakes an affair with her polar opposite as a melding of two lives instead of a tourist dallying in the sketchy part of town.
  • The Smile Beneath the Smile — Another quote description: Andrew felt it as a power and a pull — a pull toward Rachel and the power to affect her. Rachel, who had spent a year amazed that she could not get over Andrew, now realized that the bond they shared was one of awful sadness. Nothing good would ever happen to them again, no matter with what ardent innocence they approached each other.
  • The Achieve of, the Mastery of the Thing — Another quote: Once upon a time I was Professor Thorne Speizer’s stoned wife, and what a time that was.
  • Family Happiness — Polly grows up in an eccentric but close-knit family. She deeply loves her husband and appears to have the perfect family. So why is she having a passionate affair with another man?

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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