Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Report: Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin

A friend recently introduced me to the amazing fiction podcast from The New, which has allowed me to discover any number of fantastic authors reading stories published in the New Yorker in times gone by. This has come as a life-changing revelation because I can now listen to while walking, commuting, tidying up, or doing any number of the myriad little tasks that siphon away the minutes of my day. Among the multitude of gems I discovered was a story by author Laurie Colwin, read by, Maile Meloy. Because of Meloy's enthusiastic post-reading interview about Colwin's writing, I rushed right out to find Passion and Affect, the story collection featuring the short story Mr. Parker, read by Meloy on the podcast.

These fourteen hilarious tales of urban life may seem a little dated now; the collection was published in 1974, and some of the details place the book squarely in that decade, but the stories are Jane Austen to the core, miniature portraits of manners, family, relationships and love. She turns her lens on prosperous Manhattanites, showing that however impeccable their lives appear from the outside, they are messy, real people behind their polished doors. The sleek narrator of Dangerous French Mistress is an old-maidish academic having a long-standing affair with a woman really in love with his enigmatic housemate; the four lovers in The Girl with the Harlequin Glasses and the title story Passion and Affect made fools by love; and the lonely routine of piano lessons in Mr. Parker concealing a deeper truth about children in an adult world. Though each of the stories gleams with modesty, simpleness, propriety--rather like a freshly-washed dinner service--a darker current runs beneath, revealing a true affection for life's many ambiguities.  It is a vivid collection of generous portraits, written by an author with a generous heart.

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