Family Happiness

Family Happiness

3.3 6
by Laurie Colwin

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Polly is a happy wife and mother from a remarkable strong and attractive family — until one day she finds herself entagled in a completely unexpected, sweet, yet painful, love affair with a painter named Lincoln Bennett.  All of Polly's beliefs about herself explode, uprooting what had seemed to be a settled — and everlasting — idea of family


Polly is a happy wife and mother from a remarkable strong and attractive family — until one day she finds herself entagled in a completely unexpected, sweet, yet painful, love affair with a painter named Lincoln Bennett.  All of Polly's beliefs about herself explode, uprooting what had seemed to be a settled — and everlasting — idea of family happiness.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

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Chapter One

Polly Solo-Miller Demarest was the perfect flower of the Solo-Miller family. This family had everything: looks, brains, money, a strong, fortified sense of clan, and branches in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as London, just like a banking house. The patriarch of the New York gang was Henry Solo-Miller, husband of the former Constanzia Hendricks, nicknamed Wendy. Both were of old, old Jewish families, the sort that are more identifiably old American than Jewish. Solo-Millers and Hendrickses had come from Holland via Spain before the American Revolution, which they had either taken part in or helped to raise money for. Henry and Wendy had three children: Paul, Dora (called Polly by everyone), and Henry, Jr.

Polly was sandwiched between difficult brothers. Paul, a lawyer like his father, had always been mute, preoccupied, and cranky. He was said to be brilliant, but he was so silent that no one had ever really heard him say a brilliant thing. He was forty-three, unmarried, as greatly respected in the legal community as his distinguished father, and a passionate music lover. Henry, Jr., on the other hand, was a lout. He had refused to pursue the normal Solo-Miller and Hendricks occupations -- law and banking -- and had instead pursued his boyhood adoration of all things aerodynamic and become an aeronautical engineer. He had married Andreya Fillo, a fellow engineer, the daughter of Czech refugees. She and Henry, Jr., behaved more like brother and sister than like a married couple. They wore each other's clothes, did not plan to have children, played with their dog, and dedicated themselves to kite-flying. Henry, Jr.'s large, smellytickhound, Kirby, was their child substitute and, like his master, he had resisted proper training.

It was Polly who had made grandparents of her parents. She was married to a big, handsome lawyer named Henry Demarest and had produced two nice, sturdy children: Pete, nine, and Dee-Dee, whose real name was Claire, seven and a half. These children were doted on by their grandparents, who never displayed to them the eccentricities they had displayed to their own children.

Henry, Sr., dwelt in what Polly called "the realm of the higher mind." This meant that often he was not fully present. He was a rather silent man who was set in his ways the way Rembrandts are hung on a wall-with great care, correctness, and dignity-but he was funny about food and believed that everything, from vegetables to standing ribs of beef, should be washed with soap and water before cooking, and that all eggs were to be scrubbed before being boiled. For a prank, Polly, as a teen-ager, had once put a chicken into the washing machine.

As a result of these crotchets Henry, Sr., was lied to constantly. He ate happily anything that was put before him as long as someone first assured him that everything had been grown in certifiably organic soil and washed in soap and water. The pollution of the atmosphere was one of his most beloved subjects.

Wendy never got anything right. For years she had called poor Douglas Stern "Derwood," and now everyone, including his own family, called him that. She did not actually refer to Pablo Picasso as Carlos -- Polly claimed she did -- but she came close. It was a family joke that Polly had married a lawyer named Henry in order not to give her mother anything to screw up.

In general, the Solo-Millers preferred the company of their fellow Solo-Millers to that of other mortals, and they gathered frequently. Every Sunday they appeared at Henry and Wendy's at noon for a meal that some people would call lunch and others brunch. The Solo-Millers called it breakfast.

The household Polly had set up with Henry Demarest was very much like her parents'. This made perfect sense: Henry, who came from a Chicago family rather like the Solo-Millers, shared Polly's feelings about comfort, order, and the way life should be lived. They believed in harmony, generosity, and good works. As a lawyer, Henry was very well respected. He sat on the board of Pete and Dee-Dee's school; he was a Fellow of The American College of Trial Lawyers and a trustee of the school he had gone to as a boy in Chicago.

Polly had a job, too. She was Coordinator of Research in Reading Projects and Methods for the information arm of the Board of Education. That all children learn to read was Polly 's cause and it was her job to evaluate the stream of new methods, texts, and tests that poured in to the Board. This job combined some of the things Polly held most dear-service, children, and books-but for all that she was committed to it, she did not talk about it very often. Occasionally a truly crackpot reading manual would cross her desk and she would bring it home to show Henry, but otherwise she left her work at work. She felt that methods of teaching reading were chiefly of interest to other reading technicians, whereas the law was a large subject of general interest.

Polly was good at her job, good at games; and she was also a marvelous cook and housekeeper. She was neither oafish and slobby like her brother Henry, nor finicky and allergic to most common substances like her brother Paul. She had been a remarkably sweet-tempered child and as a girl had mediated any fights between Paul and Henry that had looked as if they might end up in fratricide. Those squabbles had been Paul and Henry, Jr.'s only close contact. Now they met only at family gatherings, although Polly saw both of them frequently.

She had graduated near the top of her class at a fine woman's college (which was Wendy's alma mater), had studied in France for a year, come home and worked as a reading teacher at a private school, married Henry Demarest, gotten a degree in reading education, taught in the public schools, produced Pete and Dee-Dee, and then found herself a highlevel job. She was at her office three days a week, and at home on Mondays and Fridays. This, she felt, left her plenty of time for everything -- to run the house, to spend time with Pete and Dee-Dee, and to be a helpmeet and sweetheart to her husband.

In addition, she was her mother's favorite lunch companion and a great social asset. Polly was a good listener. She could bring the shy forward or placate the arrogant and hostile. Furthermore, she was always happy to provide something scrumptious for dessert. She had never given anyone the slightest pause. Her family doted on her, but no one felt it was necessary to pay much attention to someone as sturdy, upright, cheerful, and kind as she.

Family Happiness. Copyright © by Laurie Colwin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Laurie Colwin is the author of five novels: Happy All the Time; Family Happiness; Goodbye Without Leaving; Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object; and A Big Storm Knocked It Over; three collections of short stories: Passion and Affect, Another Marvelous Thing, and The Lone Pilgrim; and two collections of essays: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. She died in 1992.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
June 14, 1944
Date of Death:
October 25, 1992
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Place of Death:
New York, New York
B.A., Bard College; M.A., Columbia University

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Family Happiness 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the struggles Polly goes through while having an affair where she truly is in love but cannot leave her perfection-oriented family. I really liked it, I read it in a day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the first Laurie Colwin book I've read and I was saddened to hear of her untimely death. Her writing draws you into the characters and, especially, how they think. Am now reading Goodbye without leaving and only wish her body of work was larger. The complex inner life seems to be her focus in both of these novels.
Bijou1313 More than 1 year ago
I just adore this book. I wouldn't have thought I'd like a book about an affair, but Polly is such a sympathetic character, and the book is so beautifully written that this is one of my favorite books of all time. I've been reading since I was 4 years old, so I have read tens of thousands of books. Ms. Colwin is my favorite writer of all time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm about halfway through and thinking I might stop reading. While I like Pollly I'm getting tired of her. She has a very nice life and no good reason for her diiscontent. The last many pages have described her tiredness Perhaps she has an undiagnosed serious illness like leukemia That might help her put things in perspective.
bookcatcc More than 1 year ago
An Unexpectedly Romantic Non-Romance As a diehard romance fan, it surprised me that I enjoyed this book so much. I read Family Happiness many years ago when I was much younger. As a young married, I really didn’t want to read a story with a theme of infidelity, and it was only Laurie Colwin’s name on the cover that made me pick it up. (I had read Happy All the Time so many times that it finally fell apart.) But this examination of how a woman who has everything she “should” want in life, yet remains unsatisfied, fascinated me. I had read a thought-provoking article in a psychology journal about the ability of couples to perceive their relationship on two levels: real and mythical. Family Happiness is such a fully realized portrait of married life that it seemed to go hand in hand with the article, but with added humor and heart. If the internet had existed, I would have given the book four stars.  Now with 32 years of marriage under my belt and a deeper understanding of the human condition, there isn’t much in a novel about marriage that could faze me. I appreciate Colwin’s deeply human portrait of the search for happiness all the more and rate it five stars.
CCHCrow More than 1 year ago
This book has the very big problem of not having a single likable character in it. The protagonist, if you can use that word to describe a character who seems intent on not doing or changing anything, is a boring, whining milquetoast, and her lover is a selfish, arrogant piece of work. Her parents and siblings are nothing but caricatures. Her husband is the only decent person in the story, but the protagonist seems intent on treating him like dirt. On top of the problems with the characters, the plot plods and the author repeats herself time and again. Saying once that the brother and his wife wear the same clothes is funny; saying it three times means that the author either has nothing else to say about the character or else thinks the reader isn't smart enough to remember the first two times. The former possibility is sad, and the latter is insulting. Don't waste your time with this one.