I never met and never corresponded with writer Laurie Colwin, but when I learned of her sudden death in 1992 at the age of 48, I felt as if I’d lost a good friend. Judging from the tributes to her on the Internet, I wasn’t alone.
Colwin wrote short stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, and a few novels, all of which focus on the inner and domestic lives of comfortably well-off upper middle-class professionals, all of whom are fundamentally good people.
Stories about uniformly nice people who have no problems in their lives and always behave themselves would be boring, of course. So Colwin gives all of her characters some measure of dissatisfaction with their seemingly perfect lives and has some of them shake things up with less than perfect behavior. She doesn’t go into the depth about her characters’ angst or the effects of their unseemly behavior on their loved ones that, say, a Dostoevsky would, nor does she provide as much of a resolution of her characters’ stories as some might like, but then again, every writer doesn’t have to be Dostoevsky.
Colwin also wrote a column on food and cooking for Gourmet magazine and published two collections of those columns in “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking,” which are even more popular than her fiction. In each of these essays, she tells a story about some aspect of food or cooking, often including a recipe toward the end. Like other effective writers, she shows how a good story makes any topic interesting.
I started thinking about the stories in those books again after trying the famous no-knead bread recipe from Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times, which I mentioned last week. In her essay on breadmaking, Colwin voices the same feelings many of us home cooks have: much as we love fresh, crusty, yeasted bread, because making it seems like a long, fussy, difficult chore, we seldom do it. Her essay and Bittman’s video debunk that conventional “wisdom.”
Colwin’s sudden, untimely, unexpected death illustrates the need for end-of-life and end-of-career planning no matter what your age, which I recently wrote about in an article on selling a law practice that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Illinois Bar Journal.
All of Colwin’s books are still in print, a further tribute to the effectiveness of her writing and the love that so many old and new readers find for her. What writer seems to speak to you as if he or she were a really good friend, even though you’ve never met?
UPDATE: Here is another blogger’s lovely post about how Laurie Colwin’s books comforted her at a difficult time in her life. And here is the link to the new home of that blog, The Cleaner Plate Club. It’s beautifully written–do check it out!