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Family Happiness

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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 happiness.

The story of a happy wife and mother, ...

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Family Happiness: A Novel

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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 happiness.

The story of a happy wife and mother, who one day finds herself embarked on a completely unexpected, sweet and painful love affair.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060958978
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 175,856
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie Colwin

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.


Born in Manhattan, Laurie Colwin grew up in Long Island, Chicago, and Philadelphia, but it was the middle and upper-class city dwellers of New York City that proved fertile ground for her short stories and novels.

Colwin was the editor of her high school newspaper, then attended Bard College in upstate New York, the Sorbonne in Paris, the New School for Social Research and Columbia University in New York City before establishing a successful career in publishing. She started with Sanford Greenberger International Publishers and eventually worked with a string of leading publishers, including Putnam, Pantheon, Viking Press and E. P. Dutton. Although she had a satisfying career as an editor, Colwin nurtured her writing style during these years as well, and in 1977, she left the publishing world and devoted herself entirely to writing.

One of Colwin's first short stories was published in The New Yorker in 1969, and she followed this early success with stories in Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Redbook, Mademoiselle and Harper's. Her first book of stories, Passion and Affect (1974), proved her talent as a writer -- the Los Angeles Times cheered that she had "single-handedly revitalized the short story." In 1977, Colwin won an O. Henry Award for short fiction for the story The Lone Pilgrim, which was later the title of a collection of 14 stories released in 1981. By the time her final book of short stories, Another Marvelous Thing, hit the stands in 1986, Colwin's readers and critics were hooked on her ability to examine troubled relationships with a refreshing clarity and sensitivity.

In between publishing short stories, Colwin delivered a number of unforgettable novels. Her first novel, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (1975), tells the touching story of a widow's attempts to cope with a life she never imagined. She soon released her second novel, Happy All the Time (1978), which critics and readers loved for the amusing portrayal of the love lives of middle and upper-class men and women. Newsweek said of the book, "the successful depiction of happiness is rare enough to qualify Colwin's novel as daring experimental fiction." Her third novel, Family Happiness (1982), deftly explores the nuances of an extra-marital affair, and Goodbye Without Leaving (1990) is a hilarious look at a woman baring her rock-and-roll soul.

Food and its rituals play a precious role in Colwin's life and career; given her talent for exploring the comic, vulnerable side of humanity in her fiction, it's no surprise that her non-fiction does the same. She wrote regular columns for Gourmet magazine -- insightful and soothing articles and recipes that celebrate the joys of cooking for one or many. More essays and recipes were published in the book Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (1988). Part memoir, part cookbook, Home Cooking is full of honest and downright funny essays with titles such as "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir" and "Stuffed Breast of Veal: A Bad Idea."

In October 1992, Laurie Colwin suffered a fatal heart attack in her home in Manhattan at the young age of 48. She is survived by her husband and daughter, as well as millions of devoted readers who have been missing her sparkling wit ever since. Her last two books were published posthumously in 1993. More Home Cooking, her second book of culinary essays, continues Colwin's passion for discovering what makes good food great. A Big Storm Knocked It Over, her final novel, once again attempts to unravel the comic mysteries of human relationships.

Ultimately, Colwin wrote both fiction and non-fiction in a quest to get at the core of humanity – to understand love wherever it existed, recognize the humor in humans, and to give readers something they might not have realized they were missing: a happy ending.

Good To Know

A talented chef, Colwin cooked for student protesters occupying campus buildings during the 1968 uprisings at Columbia University, and later volunteered as a cook for the Coalition for the Homeless and the Antonio Olivieri Shelter for Homeless Women.

Among her achievements as an editor, Colwin discovered author Fran Liebowitz while at Dutton, and she edited and translated works by Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature.

From fan and fellow columnist Nancy Pate's touching tribute to Colwin:

"None of us had ever met Colwin except through her writing. But we felt as if we knew her from those stories.

"We knew that she liked animals and small children, quilts and pretty plates, family and friends, men who were good dancers and good kissers.

"We knew that she loved music, from classical greats like Boccherini and Brahms, to rock 'n' roll legends like the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. She knew all the words to the Crystals' 'He's a Rebel.'

She loved to read, and to cook."

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

Read an Excerpt

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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2005

    Very Deep

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012

    Ultimate insider goes rogue

    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.

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  • Posted November 26, 2011

    Incredible book

    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.

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  • Posted August 11, 2011

    Don't Waste Your Time

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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