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.
Larry Weller is a regular guy, or so Carol Shields has him think. When we first meet him in 1977 Winnipeg at age 26, he’s 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, it’s not too bad, either. (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 is 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 center of the maze to its exit.
Barnes and Noble
A series of vignettes dating back to 1977 capture the poignant, hilarious, and moving highlights in the life of Larry Weller, a simple man with two overwhelming passions: designing garden mazes and finding out what it means to be a good man. Carol Shields, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries, invites us to peek into Larry’s marriages, divorces, and friendships to discover how the joys and sorrows of everyday life add up to something immensely important. Read by the author. Running time: Approximately 6 hours.