Here is a librarian's worst nightmare. A customer comes in looking for book recommendations. He or she is only interested in well-written fiction — they can't stand sappy mid-list stuff and are only interested in top-notch writing. Something modern but something a fan of Chekov would enjoy. So far, so good. Any librarian worth their salt could show them dozens of books, but just as we are about to take our customer by the figurative hand they drop the bombshell; "Oh, and it has to have a happy ending."
For some reason, most of the "great works of literature" don't end well for thier characters. Most serious works of literature also focus on the "big issues": death, the human condition (whatever that is), Man's inhumanity to Man, Man's folly in our relationship with nature. Fun stuff like that. Or, as Henry de Montherlant said, "Happiness writes white"; that is white ink on a white page cannot be read.
Then there is Laurie Colwin. As smart as anyone writing in the Twentieth Century, a master of subtle shades and carefuly nuanced sentences, who chose to write about the most over written about topic there is — relationships. Finding love and keeping it; discovering what it means to be happy; domesticity — this is the straw she wove into gold. Laurie Colwin wrote brilliant books with happy endings — a feat almost unheard of outside of comic novels. I confess I have not read all her work, but I feel pretty confident that no one in her books throws themselves under a train. I think it is a sign of a great writer that she can make her readers care about things they otherwise wouldn't give a fig about, and Colwin made me care about dinner parties thrown by upper-middle class WASPs. Obviously the woman was a genius.
Whether or not you go in for happy endings, you should do yourself a favour and checkout Laurie Colwin. Sadly, Laurie left us in 1992 at the far-too-young age of forty eight.
As I was walking through the library I saw a new edition of Colwin's novel Happy all the Time on the shelf — I hope this is a sign that all of her books are going to be reprinted. Happy all the Time is probably the finest of Colwin's many fine books, and well worth a read if you you are looking for something both fun and smart.