Assessment | How I discovered that literature doesn’t should be depressing


The characters in “Pleased All of the Time,” Laurie Colwin’s 1978 novel, spend a stunning period of time being sad. “He had by no means felt so depressing in his life,” Colwin writes of Vincent Cardworthy as he makes an attempt to ask Misty Berkowitz out for a drink. Misty responds with a flat “I don’t drink.” When he asks if she has different plans, she says, “No.”

Vincent’s drawback, in fact, is that he’s in love. Fortunately for Vincent, in Laurie Colwin’s world, the transient torture of falling in love is simply prelude to the lifelong pleasure of discovering your love requited. When Misty says sure, she’ll go to dinner with him as a substitute, he feels “aid flooding his muscle groups the best way morphine does.”

I learn “Pleased All of the Time” after I, too, was feeling depressing. My drawback was that I used to be turning 40, and among the many many crises that engendered, I used to be very upset that I had not but written a novel. Literary novels, of the kind I’d all the time imagined myself writing, had been critical affairs. I nonetheless remembered the phrases of a well-known author who visited my MFA program, this system that ended with me failing to jot down a darkish, intense novel. “The job of an writer,” he’d mentioned, “is to make life as tough as doable for his characters.” In that problem, he defined, character is revealed.

However studying my mass-market paperback of “Pleased All of the Time,” with the large pink coronary heart on the duvet — a e book jacket I wouldn’t have been caught useless with in that MFA program — I puzzled if it was doable that wasn’t true. Colwin doesn’t make it as tough as doable for her characters. She loves them and rewards them with completely satisfied lives, revealing her characters as clearly in pleasure as different authors do in anguish. In her books, characters might get offended with each other, however the anger dissipates with a easy apology and cry, and never one however two chapters finish with the characters toasting with champagne.

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That doesn’t imply that the novel is devoid of battle, or that the foursome of the novel are love-silly morons and not using a care on this planet. Even on the cusp of marriage, one character trudges up Central Park West, feeling as if the 4 chambers of her coronary heart are “crammed with love, dread, confusion, and certainty.” However, getting ready to my fifth decade, I felt protected in Colwin’s fingers, as a result of I understood, someway, that she would by no means be too merciless to her characters — that even after they really feel disappointment, it’s a setup. As in a joke, we await the punchline: The champagne bubbles of happiness Colwin provides her characters time and again. The e book is a comedy, and its promise is that these punchlines will maintain coming — that life might typically make you depressing, however it’s doable to navigate these risks and stay buoyant.

It was after studying “Pleased All of the Time” that I began writing fiction once more, after many years away. My solely purpose, at first, was to jot down scenes that made me really feel the best way “Pleased All of the Time” made me really feel as I learn it. It was the one means I might maintain myself going, actually, writing whereas navigating household life and a job and the very typical issues of a sandwich-generation dad. And so when I discovered myself edging towards darkness, I steered towards the sunshine as a substitute. Writing at 10:45 at night time, after I’d put the children to mattress, I simply didn’t have it in me to place my very own characters, or myself, via actually horrible issues.

I felt invigorated: I used to be having fun with what I used to be writing! What an idea. However was it a e book? What sort of e book was it? What did it imply for my previous literary goals, to jot down a e book that wouldn’t appear out place with an enormous coronary heart on its cowl?

Quickly, I discovered the story I used to be making gave me the possibility to deal with this very concern. My heroine, Emily, works in e book publishing in Nineteen Nineties New York. In her early twenties, her style remains to be forming, and when she has the chance to work with a novel that, like “Pleased All of the Time,” is about “completely good younger folks with completely regular relationship issues,” she resists. She tries to get the writer to darken the e book, and the writer tells her, “I used to be unhappy for a very long time, and proper now I simply need to write characters who’re completely satisfied.” It takes some time, however Emily comes to know the worth of the e book, and the significance of writing about happiness.

My novel, referred to as “Classic Contemporaries,” can also be about people who find themselves completely satisfied and happiness. That doesn’t imply that the characters additionally don’t really feel unhappy typically. There’s a personality within the e book who’s a tribute to Colwin and, on condition that Colwin died at 48, it’s not laborious to see what’s coming. It simply signifies that I, too, am making a promise to readers. I’m going to be type to all my characters, identical to Colwin was. I’m going to allow them to resolve their issues with an apology and cry.

And I hope readers will nonetheless be taught simply as a lot about them, and about themselves, as they might if I put us all via the wringer.

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