Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wishlist Wednesday: Home Cooking AND More Home Cooking - Laurie Colwin

I am a big fan of Laurie Colwin's (1944-1992) novels. No one wrote about domesticity better, but at the same time, she had quirky characters who led sometimes clumsy lives and spoke a language that seemed both fluid and hastily cobbled together. For me, she was like a cross between Dorothy Parker, Ann Beattie and Jane Austen: Witty and brittle with toughness but also warmth.

Initially, I became acquainted with Colwin's writing in Playboy. My first husband had a subscription, given to him by (strangely enough) my mother. In those early days of being a mother-in-law, she didn't know -- or really care to know -- how to relate to a son-in-law. When it came time to buy him a birthday present, she thought she'd be a smartass and get him a subscription to Playboy. She made sure she was front and center when he opened his birthday card. She could barely contain her malicious glee; she was already imagining telling her friends at work how she'd dumbfounded and embarrassed "Ol' Sonny Boy". His reaction surprised her; he was delighted and gave her a warm hug. For years afterwards, until he was remarried to someone who had definite problems with stacks of Playboy around the house, he never let the subscription lapse.

Playboy was OK with me. I actually looked forward to its arrival each month. I bypassed the pneumatic nudes and enjoyed things like looking for the bunny logo hidden in the cover, the Playboy interview, Cynthia Heimel's column, the book and movie reviews and the fiction.

I loved the fiction; it remains some of the best I've ever read. One day -- maybe the mid-80s? -- there was a story called "My Mistress" by Laurie Colwin about a man who is married to an impossibly cultured wife that is tenderhearted and solicitious while his mistress is slightly cranky and an unrepentant slob.

It was a case of lit-love at first sight. Who was Laurie Colwin? Probably a guy, I mused. Guys could be named Laurie although I'd only ever heard of Laurie from Little Women. Sure, it was a guy. The story was published in Playboy, after all. The main character was a guy, told from his POV. It didn't take long to hunt down Colwin's novels at the library and learn that she was actually female. I was surprised and extremely pleased.

Towards the end of her life, Colwin had turned her attention more towards food and cooking and was doing a column for Gourmet magazine. These columns were collection in a 1988 book called Home Cooking. More Home Cooking was published posthumously in 1993.

I miss Laurie Colwin's writing. I'd sit right down and re-read Happy All The Time if it suddenly appeared before me -- students and Business English interviews and finals be damned. I also miss food, the kind of food that's so difficult to find here, the kind of food that Laurie Colwin writes about so eloquently that you can smell it wafting from the page. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking have been on my wishlist for a couple of years now; I'm more than ready to dig in.


darkorpheus said...

I really like the story of how you came to Laurie Colwin. The way the world works. :)

Gentle Reader said...

Great story of getting to know Colwin! I love her, too, and am so sad that she died so young. My favorite of her books is a story collection called The Lone Pilgrim. I love how you describe her--and I, too, felt the underlying warmth! Thanks for this post!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog, both from learning about this new author, and from getting this little glimpse into your story.