Emotional ennui has claimed many victims in the 1970s. In Single City, relationships have become relationship-lets; after five or six (or 15 or 16) encounters, one or the other of the disappointed partners calls the whole thing off. He watched too much television. She poured ketchup over everything. But just as many of the disillusioned have come to accept as normal the fact that in matters between men and women, the centre is not holding, along comes New York author Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time. It is (says its dust jacket) “a wholly delightful comedy of manners and morals” with, of all things, a happy message about contemporary love.
Two sets of couples, well educated, well bred and reasonably well adjusted, fall in love and stay in love. (With their original partners, you cynics.) Eyes get misty, hands get held, champagne gets consumed by the quartful. Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you the Happy Ending. The women, Holly and Misty, are adorably difficult. Holly, a “strong, domestic sensualist” (read good cook and homemaker) with sleek, Japanese-style hair, tends to go off on spur-of-themoment retreats just when things are unbearably happy at home. But she does so, muses her husband, “looking like the most chic of all possible retreatants” and when she returns, she makes him “very perfect scrambled eggs with chives.” Misty, meanwhile, affects an “only Jew at the dinner table” look and saucy putdowns of upper-middle-class social situations. (“I will not sit around making nervous small talk over some garbagy rack of lamb.”) The boys, Guido and Vincent, are adorably obtuse. While not quite understanding their wives, they still worship at their feet.
Together, the four make not conversation but repartee. It’s all so reminiscent of a Cary Grant movie with, as one disappointed reality buff put it after closing the book, “no crusty underwear in sight.” When word first filtered out that there was a happy novel about relationships (and one also hailed as witty and delightful) curiosity among trendy single groovers with a literary bent ran rampant. A happy ending? Are you sure? Perhaps, for all those still floundering in the sea of stormy relationships, it would contain a message, a tip on how to get there from here. Well it does. All you need to be successful in love is perfection.
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