” On this elevating note Jane Louise went back to the office. Her interior life was trisected: She was now a married woman, and with her husband, Theodore Cornelius Parker, she was creating an entity known as ‘Their Marriage.’ It was like a museum stuffed with breakfast conversations, fights about where the extra key had been put, dinners eaten, movies viewed, showers taken together, plans made. In sickness and in health, and in confusion. Decisions were made: to try to conceive a baby in the early summer—a communal decision. Eventually a baby would emerge, and Jane Louise would have another mental section, a quarter section to deal with known as ‘Their Child.’ They would then have an entity to inhabit called ‘Their Family.’ ” (Ch.10, p.68-69)
Laurie Colwin’s last of her five novels (my first of hers) is keeping the sentiment of the upcoming Mother’s Day. Words of a Mom. Although not much happens in A Big Storm Knocked It Over, the thin volume is bursting with life. The protagonist, Jane Louise Parker, anticipates the birth of her child and struggles with the anxieties and insecurities attendant to the enormous responsibility. Her wide-eyed wonder and super-sensitivity toward even mundane institutions and events are what make this novel. During the first year of her marriage, she struggles for a footing. Evoked along with her many existential thoughts is a cross-section of a place, a time, and circumstances revolving this marriage.
When Teddy got like that there was almost nothing she could do. He had entered a world he wanted no one else to enter: the world of a small child who was uncomfortable around both his parents; who felt like a betrayer if he felt the remotest twinge of love for his father or missed him while in the company of his mother . . . (Ch.24, p.175-176)
Jane Louise gives the impression that she has difficult thinking herself as a grown-up. She has a free-floating anxiety born of a lifetime of feeling excluded. Her marriage adds to this anxiety because she worries if teddy is truly in love with her. She feels inferior to the focused Teddy, the scion of a well-heeled family that has haunted him all his life after his parents had a bitter divorce. Although the divorce has not put an edge to his temperament, the feelings run deep, so still, and they are so dull from years of constant pain, that Jane, who is intimate with his physical manifestations, feels helpless before them.
Maybe being a mother, Jane Louise thought, would somehow make her immune to edges, snags, surprises, having passes made at her in sunlit studies by overzealous writers. She would have a baby and be all of a piece. The world would fall, gently as snow, into an attractive shape. (Ch.20, p.151)
A Big Storm Knocked It Over examines some traditional institutions with a sharp eye and an offbeat sense of humor. Colwin, in a quiet and contemplative prose, speculates about marriage, families, friendships, and about differences between sexes. As jane ponders at the new challenges being a parent, other characters also carry weight on their own merit. Jane finds herself fending off the advances of her libidinous boss, whom she compares to an insect. Her best friend Edie is pregnant; but her family doesn’t like being confronted by a black son-in-law because their horror at the idea compromises their otherwise impeccable credentials. All these Colwin executes with witty, accurate dialogue and graceful prose. This book is so nuanced. It’s about mood, reflection, and the small, ordinary joys and heartbreaks that end up defining our lives.
259 pp. Harper Perennial Paperback. [Read/
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