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Shine on, Bright and Dangerous Object

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When Sam Bax, that charming daredevil of a Boston lawyer, sails his boat into a storm off the coast of Maine, Elizabeth "Olly" Bax, his wife and ardent sidekick, becomes a widow at the edge of seventy-seven.  With no pretense of "courage", Olly grieves, coping with the warmth and awkwardness of family ties and trying to rethink her own life.  Realizing that her risks are as daring as any of Sam's — while he chanced life and limb, Olly risks her heart — she finds that ...

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When Sam Bax, that charming daredevil of a Boston lawyer, sails his boat into a storm off the coast of Maine, Elizabeth "Olly" Bax, his wife and ardent sidekick, becomes a widow at the edge of seventy-seven.  With no pretense of "courage", Olly grieves, coping with the warmth and awkwardness of family ties and trying to rethink her own life.  Realizing that her risks are as daring as any of Sam's — while he chanced life and limb, Olly risks her heart — she finds that love can take some surprising turns.

Laurie Colwin depics Olly's recovery with humor, compassion, and a decided lack of sentimentally, creating a real heroine who remains true to her heart and still manages to keep her head.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060958961
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.43 (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

My husband died sailing off the coast of Maine, leaving me a widow at the age of twenty-seven. This was the time when a lot of girls were losing their husbands to the air war or the ground war; I lost my husband to recklessness, to a freak storm and a flimsy boat. I had no bitter, apologetic telegram to inform me, no grieving soldier at my door with the unsent letter, watch, and kit, no child to console.

His name was Sam Bax, and no one ever stopped him from anything. His brother Patrick and I watched him sail out of Little Crab Harbor when he knew there were storm warnings. We passed the binoculars back and forth, but Patrick got the last full glimpse of him. When he passed the heavy glasses over to me, there was a bright white dot on the horizon, but it might have been a buoy and not the last of Sam's sail. I remember thinking at the time that Sam acted out every wild impulse Patrick had ever entertained and fought down. Sam was thirty, and Patrick thirty-two, the oldest and staidest of youthful lawyers. He executed his violence on the tennis court, and the first time I met him -- before Sam and I were married -- he and Sam got drunk after dinner and played a vicious game of midnight tennis that ended with Sam's wrist and ankle taped, and Patrick with a dent in his head where he had collided with the racket Sam hurled at him. And that was pretty much the outlet for Patrick Bax. He had squashed his recklessness down to an ironic sort of caution that was a slap in his own face.

Sam, on the other hand, during our five years together, broke his collarbone when a skittish horse threw him in front of a hurdle, and Sam, who had never jumped,narrowly missed breaking his back and smashing his skull. He broke his right leg skiing, and on a rock climb he cut his shoulder, so deep that, when they carried him down, he was bright gray, unconscious, and you could see bone beneath the wound. I was used to sharing my bed with plaster, tape, and ace bandages. It wasn't athletics, although the Bax boys were athletic in a well-rounded, general way. It wasn't sport at all. If there had been no sports, they would have invented something much more dangerous. They were natural front-line soldiers, but both of them beat the draft by staying where their upbringing dictated they stay'in school'and they graduated as lawyers like their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before them.

The Baxes summered at Little Crab Harbor, a bleak enclave with a beach composed of lunar-looking rock. From the shore you could see, set on a hump of boulders, the lighthouse at Great Crab, and at night you could hear the bell buoy tolling arrhythmically. Their house was a big, rambling, cedar-shingled cottage with a clay tennis court next to the potting shed. All summer long they walked around in smudged whites, their kneecaps powdery gray. All of them -- Sam and Patrick and their parents, Leonard and Meridia -- were tennis crazy. A little rise, shaded by ash and pine, looked down on the court, and I spent countless hours reading there, or dozing off to the sound of the ball. The Baxes believed in playing until you felt you might collapse. Leonard's face usually turned purple when he had had it, and Meridia became quite yellow under her tan.

But Sam and Patrick never knew when to give up. They kept a big pitcher of water at the side of the net, and they played and drank under the hot sun until the water ran out. Then they held their heads under the pump and returned, dripping, to the court while the air dried them off. If either gave up, it was my turn, but I wasn't much fun for them. I was good for a couple of bracing sets, after which I lost interest and went back to my book. Their usual cry, when I retired to my place under the tree, was “But you were just getting warm!” When I said I wanted to improve my backhand, I could tell they were truly puzzled. That didn't have anything to do with playing, they said.Patrick and I were at the bay window when Sam sailed out. Patrick was annoyed -- his chief reaction to his brother. He delivered himself of his standard lecture, referring to Sam as “that collection of accidents.” His voice was prim and remote.

“Our Sam is hoping to be elected the world's most dangerous boy,” he said. “You shouldn't have let him go. Why the hell didn't you stop him?” He peered through the binoculars. “I wonder if I should put some tarps over the court before it rains.”

When he put the glasses down, his eyes were dreamy and angry. You could tell he envisioned himself in that Sailfish, thrilled by the small-craft warning, pitting himself against the sea. It was the end of summer. The leaves were on the verge of turning, and some recent gales had brought down branches. Underfoot, the moss buckled. An hour after Sam sailed out, the sky turned the color of tin and you could see a knot of greenish clouds out by the Great Crab lighthouse. When we went to put the tarps on the court, the air was poised and still, the way it is before it storms.

I said, “I told him not to go. He said it would be his last sail of the season and he wanted me to come with him.”

“Sam isn't happy unless someone is worrying,” Patrick said. “That's how he keeps his boyish laughter.”

As we walked back to the house the wind came up and it began to rain, large, heavy drops that hit on a slant and raised puffs of dust. Patrick spent the afternoon pacing and calling the Coast Guard. I sat leafing through a stack of old salt-bloated magazines, and suddenly I was exhausted: it occurred to me in a rush of panic what I was waiting out.

We had come up to close the house for the year. Leonard and Meridia were in Boston. I thought we ought to call them.

Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object. Copyright © by Laurie Colwin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2002

    A Very Nearly Perfect Book

    When this book first came out in the mid-1970s, a reviewer correctly called it "a very nearly perfect book." Laurie Colwin's use of language was exquisite and precise. Her turns of phrase were unexpected and absolutely accurate, as was her knack for choosing exactly the right detail to create an entire picture. This book is as wonderful for images she created as for the characters and the story, at once unsentimental and deeply moving, of a young woman learning how to lose, to grieve, and to grow in ways she'd never anticipated. "Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object" is marvelous!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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