Lone Pilgrim

Colwin, Laurie. The Lone Pilgrim. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1981. Reason read: June is National Short Story Month. There are thirteen stories within The Lone Pilgrim and they are as follows:

  1. The Lone Pilgrim – Children’s book illustrator Paula Price is the perfect house guest, a student of human conduct. Vicariously, she lives through her hosts. But really, all she is doing is looking for love. I found her constant questioning “that was love, wasn’t it?” endearing. Favorite line, “He had never so much as brushed my arm with his sleeve, and here we were locked in an embrace on an empty street” (p 14).
  2. The Boyish Lover – Jane and Cordy seem to be the perfect couple…until they get to know one another. Cordy comes from money but thinks Jane is too lavish. She lives paycheck to paycheck but knows how to live life to the fullest. It’s this difference of prosperity that drives them apart. Favorite line, “Love, in its initial stages, takes care of everything” (p 25). True.
  3. Sentimental Memory – Unidentified twice divorced woman runs away to Scotland to figure out her life. She’s only 31 so the idea of two fail marriages behind her is startling. In Scotland she meets a young Scottish student, home on holiday. He’s madly in love with an Italian girl. Without realizing it, he teaches her about the meaning of love. Best lines (for you who know me you’ll know why there are two): “The very least I could do was to catch up to myself” (p 43) and “I realized that there were times when the only appropriate response to Billy would have been to strangle him” (p 44).
  4. A Girl Skating – Bernadette Spaeth tells the creepy story of a famous poet/professor obsessed with her during her childhood and teen years. It’s an ominous story with slightly sinister statements like, “I was the child he loved best and there was no escaping him” (p 51) and “There was no way I could duck him” (p 54).
  5. An Old Fashioned Story – Everyone knows a priss like this, “Elizabeth’s friends came down with measles, chicken pox, and mumps, but Elizabeth considered Nelson her childhood disease” (p 60). Coming from a high-society culture Elizabeth Leopold was supposed to date only good boys (like Nelson; possibly only Nelson). She wanted anyone but Nelson.
  6. Intimacy – Martha Howard is a woman wrangling old emotions. William Sutherland had been a married man when he and Martha first had an affair. Now she’s the married woman. Is it cheating when William’s love came first? “For a moment they were simply lovers with a past between them” (p 89).
  7. Travel – Another story about relationships and marriage, “He knew if he wasn’t around I would step back and run my life as if he never walked into it” (p 96).
  8. Delia’s Father – Georgia Levy remembers her childhood friend’s seductive and exotic father and how she ends up kissing him. I had to wonder how much childhood innocence was really lost when Georgia skipped school that day. Best line, “Children are a tribe, and childhood is there tribal home” (p 116).
  9. A Mythological Subject – Interesting tale about a cousin who falls in love with a colleague. “Of all the terrible things in life, living with a divided heart is the most terrible for an honorable person” (p 127).
  10. St Anthony of the Desert – Another story about a relationship gone awry except this one has a very subtle twist. He’s separated and wants to give his wife another chance. She only mentions it once so if you aren’t paying attention you might miss it, “After all, no one knew I was married” (p 145). Best line from the story, “In ordinary times, devils are ordinary” (p 142).
  11. The Smile Beneath the Smile – Another story about a married individual having an affair with a single one. One pines away for the other. Favorite line, “If you live in a city, you cannot avoid inadvertently opening your life to strangers in public places” (p 154).
  12. The Achieve of, the Mastery of the Thing – a professor’s wife is having an affair with marijuana. Interesting tidbit: the title of the story comes from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. That’s cool.
  13. Family Happiness – Yet another story about a married individual (Polly) having an affair with a single one. This time there is the burden of a quirky family. Her love life consists of one man who makes her life normal while the other man makes her life natural. Polly’s boyfriend always gets her name right while her family is always nicknaming. Lines I liked, “The family doted on her, but no one paid much attention to her” (p 191) and “I like my mole-like life with you” (p 206).

There is a pattern to Colwin’s stories and a common theme. Family and relationships (and someone always running off to Paris).

Author fact: Colwin died of a heart attack at age 48.

Book trivia: “Lone Pilgrim” and “The Achieve of, the Mastery of the Thing” are Nancy Pearl’s favorite stories from Lone Pilgrim.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. First, “Food for Thought” (p 92) and again in simply, “Short Stories” (p 220). There are two points I have to make. Lone Pilgrim shouldn’t have been in “Food for Thought” and Pearl added an extra comma in the title of the short story “The Achieve of, the Mastery of the Thing.”

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