Thursday, September 21, 2006

Another Marvelous Writer

I've been re-reading some Laurie Colwin this week. First was Home Cooking, then A Big Storm Knocked It Over, and now I'm about half done with Family Happiness. She creates such specific, East Coast worlds, that for me, it's almost like reading a travelogue, since I'm just a native Southern California heathen who has never even been to New York, or anyplace more than 100 miles east of the Mississippi. (Unless you count the East, capital E.) I like the people in her books very much, yet I'm also a little intimidated by them, as they certainly don't talk or dress or live like anyone I've ever sat and shared a soda with. Her women wear knife-pleated grey skirts and tweeds and thick woolen stockings, or creamy silk blouses with peter-pan collars. If married, they sport thin gold bands, or tiny estate diamonds. Anyway, I'm quite sure they wouldn't be caught dead in my bright Target tshirts and denim capris.

But I love Laurie Colwin because of the descriptions of her character's domestic lives, and how the women heroines all seem to revel in the comforts of home. There are lots of details about clean sheets, warm quilts, and hearty veal stews on blustery winter nights. Or pancakes with fresh blueberries and rich coffee, made whilst looking out the window at one's Park Avenue neighbors of a Sunday morning. Or baskets of good wine and goat cheese brought up to one's cabin on the lake -- the cabin that's been in the family for a generation or two, of course. So I've turned to these books over the last couple of weeks, to not only revisit the happy (for they are always happy) love stories and tales of family politics, but also because I'm just in that nesting kind of mood that the end of summer always evokes for me.

I admit that I got a little resentful with Home Cooking this time out. I think it's because I was actually reading more for the recipes, not the anecdotes, and since she was such a good, natural cook herself, she tends to take some of the details for granted. For example, more than once she gives recipes for puddings that require baking in a "kettle." Now, I have made a bread pudding, so I know about a bain marie, or water bath, but a kettle? I'm not quite a novice in the kitchen, but close, so I require recipes to take me by the hand a little more firmly than hers tend to do. Still, I laughed aloud again at some examples in the chapter titled "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir." I can't say for sure which of her novels or story collections is my favorite -- probably the linked stories in Happy All the Time, featuring that wife who spends her afternoons reading through the entire works of Proust and then removes herself to a convent when she becomes pregnant. Before that happens, though, she handily whips up a complicated croquembouche for her brother-in-law's wedding. And without Laurie Colwin and her tours of the interiors of these exotic (for me), well-heeled New York apartments, I'd probably never even know what the heck a croquembouche is.


Post a Comment

<< Home