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The "San Diego Tribune" called "The Stone Diaries" a "universal study of what makes women tick." With "Larry's Party" Carol Shields has done the same for men. Larry Weller, born in 1950, is an ordinary guy made extraordinary by his creator's perception, irony, and tenderness. "Larry's Party" gives us, as it were, a CAT scan of his life, in episodes between 1977 and 1997, that seamlessly flash backward and forward. We follow this young floral designer through two marriages and divorces, and his interactions with his parents, friends, and a son. Throughout, we witness his deepening passion for garden mazes--so like life, with their teasing treachery and promise of reward. Among all the paradoxes and accidents of his existence, Larry moves through the spontaneity of the seventies, the blind enchantment of the eighties, and the lean, mean nineties, completing at last his quiet, stubborn search for self. Larry's odyssey mirrors the male condition at the end of our century with targeted wit, unerring poignancy, and faultless wisdom.
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Larry Weller is a regular guy, or so Carol Shields has him think. The scene of our first sight of Larry is Winnipeg in 1977, and the 26 year old is pondering the pluses of Harris tweed, still living at home and realizing he's in love with his girlfriend, Dorrie, a flinty car saleswoman. Larry is proud of his job at Flowerfolks, even though he fell into floral design by accident, and if his relationship with his parents isn't perfect, neither is it that bad. (Stu and Flo Weller may have less page-time in Larry's Party, but they are hugely memorable. He is a master upholsterer, happiest when working, she a woman ruined by nervous guilt having inadvertently killed off her mother-in-law with some improperly preserved green beans.)
Carol Shields has said that she had "always been struck by the fact that in most novels people aren't working." Though her hero climbs the floral managerial trellis for 17 years and finds more rhapsody in work than marriage, Larry and Dorrie's honeymoon in England points him toward what will be his true vocation--mazes. These living constructs turn him into a thinker, a man of imagination, and the author's descriptions are quietly spectacular as well as effortlessly sweet. Larry wonders at their "teasing elegance and circularity ... a snail, a scribble, a doodle on the earth's skin with no other directed purpose but to wind its sinuous way around itself." Just as Larry changes with the times--each elliptical chapter ages him by one or two years--so does his art. In 1990, he designs a maze in which you can't really lose yourself. In 1997, the McCord Maze "is intended to mirror the descent into unconscious sleep, followed by a slow awakening." Larry, too, has a slow awakening, taking several false turns before reaching midlife. As the novel closes, with a bravura dinner party scene, he may finally be at ease in the world. But his creator knows that he is only halfway there, and still has to negotiate his way from the centre of the maze to its exit.Review:
'A brilliant fictional reflection on what it may be like to be a man in the late twentieth century.' -- Penelope Lively, Independent
'Altogether a cause for celebration.' -- Anita Brookner, Spectator
'Exhilarating' -- Sunday Times
'Richly satisfying ... Shields demonstrates once again her extreme mastery of emotional geometry.' -- Sunday Telegraph
'This is, like all of Shields's work, filled with warmth and understanding.' -- The Times
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