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Larry's Party

Larry's Party

3.8 4
by Carol Diggory Shields

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A chronicle of one ordinary man's life as he searches, at first, bumblingly and inarticulately for happiness and the meaning of existence, this triumphant novel runs in delicious counterpoint to Shields's evocation of Daisy Stone's life in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries. In following her male protagonist over five decades, Shields observes the changing social conventions, gender roles, vernacular idiosyncracies and moral constructs of the times, interpolating these details into the narrative with subtle wit and an unerring eye for telling details. She also delineates the stages of life as the body ages and the future offers only the "steady decline of limitless possibility," while the mind hopes for the solace of some universal truths. Born in 1950 into a blue-collar household in Winnipeg, Larry Weller becomes a floral designer for want of a better career goal. Aware of his lack of education, awkward and sexually timid (his eventual sexual awakening is both raunchy and funny), Larry is dimly conscious of another aspect of life beyond his parochial horizons. Only during his first honeymoon in England, willfully lost inside the maze at Hampton Court, does he get a glimmer that he might be more than "a man of limited imagination and few choices." When his fascination with shrubby labyrinths becomes a professional career, Larry moves into a wider world (and from Canada to the U.S. and back again) as a financially successful and internationally recognized maze builder. He also endures emotional traumas: the breakup of two marriages, estrangement from his son, midlife crisis and a catastrophic illness. Meanwhile, he is plagued with inchoate longings to understand the dimly perceived relationship between the mazes he constructs and "the undertow of something missing" in his existence. Shields offers snippets of Larry's journey through life in short chapters that often intersect and double back; a turn here, a repetition there. The pathway of her maze becomes clear only at the end, when Larry and his lover give a party to celebrate the coincidence of his two ex-wives arriving in Toronto. Evoked in a brilliant cascade of conversation in which the central question is "What's it like being a man in the last days of the 20th century?" the party provides Larry with epiphanic insight, and the reader with some delightful surprises. The novel glows with Shield's unsentimental optimism and her supple command of a sweetly ironic and graceful prose.
Library Journal
Larry was once a floral designer, but now he's taken on something much more ambitious: he designs mazes. Shields's new book is constructed like a maze, and her real purpose is to consider what it means to be male in the 1990s.
Washington Post Book World
Larry's Party is a book that, page after page, offers a great deal of pleasure . . . .another winner for its author.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Elegant phrasing. . .evocative imagery. . .a rare treat.
Kirkus Reviews
A meticulous coming-of-(middle)-age novel by Pulitzer Prize- winner Shields (The Stone Diaries, 1993, etc.), who seems to have mastered the art of understatement without falling into the bottomless pit of obscurity.

Larry Weller, the son of English immigrants, is brought to Winnipeg while still in his mother's womb. He grows up to become a floral arranger and landscape gardener. As the story opens in 1977, Larry is 26, living at home and dating Dorrie, whom he eventually marries. The book progresses episodically across the next 20 years, each chapter self-contained enough to work as an independent story but connected to the ones that precede and follow it by the narrative of Larry's life, which runs through them like the string holding together a necklace of pearls. Thus, while the focus of each chapter is minuscule—a tweed jacket picked up by mistake in a restaurant, for example, or a trip to the airport to meet a small child—the cumulative effect is one of exceptional clarity and depth of emotion, since the larger environment that surrounds ordinary daily routines becomes better defined and more obvious as the story progresses. The unhappy circumstances that led to the Wellers' emigration, the failure of Larry's marriage to Dorrie, the trials of his second marriage, and the development of his career as a landscaper are all described through flashback. Each part is carefully related to the central metaphor of the garden mazes that Larry becomes expert at designing. The climactic chapter, in which the characters of Larry's labyrinthine and exceedingly complicated life come together at a party, is a blatantly contrived device—but successful in spite of its transparency.

Very fine and real: Shields writes with the rare self- assurance of one who from the first knows where her characters are going and what will become of them once they arrive, and—rarer still—manages not to bend them out of shape along the way.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 7.91(h) x 0.78(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Fifteen Minutes in the Life of Larry Weller


By mistake Larry Weller took someone else’s Harris tweed jacket instead of his own, and it wasn't until he jammed his hand in the pocket that he knew something was wrong.

His hand was traveling straight into a silky void. His five fingers pushed down, looking for the balled-up Kleenex from his own familiar worn-out pocket, the nickels and dimes, the ticket receipts from all the movies he and Dorrie had been seeing lately. Also those hard little bits of lint, like meteor grip, that never seem to lose themselves once they've worked into the seams.

This pocket — today’s pocket — was different. Clean, a slippery valley. The stitches he touched at the bottom weren't his stitches. His fingertips glided now on a sweet little sea of lining. He grabbed for the buttons. Leather, the real thing. And something else — the sleeves were a good half inch longer than they should have been.

This jacket was twice the value of his own. The texture, the seams. You could see it got sent all the time to the cleaners. Another thing, you could tell by the way the shoulders sprang out that this jacket got parked on a thick wooden hanger at night. Above a row of polished shoes. Refilling its tweedy warp and woof with oxygenated air.

He should have run back to the coffee shop to see if his own jacket was still scrunched there on the back of his chair, but it was already quarter to six, and Dorrie was expecting him at six sharp, and it was rush hour and he wasn't anywhere near the bus stop.

And — the thought came to him — what’s the point? Ajacket’s a jacket. A person who patronized a place like Café Capri is almost asking to get his jacket copped. This way all that’s happened is a kind of exchange.

Forget the bus, he decided. He'd walk. He'd stroll. In his hot new Harris tweed apparel. He'd push his shoulders along, letting them roll loose in their sockets. Forward with the right shoulder, bam, then the left shoulder coming up from behind. He'd let his arms swing wide. Fan his fingers out. Here comes the Big Guy, watch out for the Big Guy.

The sleeves rubbed light across the back of his hands, scratchy but not too scratchy.

And then he saw that the cuff buttons were leather too, a smaller-size version of the main buttons, but the same design, a sort of cross-pattern like a pecan pit cut in quarters, only the slices overlapped this little bit. You could feel the raised design with you finger, the way the four quadrants of leather crossed over and over each other, their edges cut wavy on the inside margin. These waves intersected in the middle, dived down there in a dark center and disappeared. A black hole in the button universe. Zero.

Quadrant was a word Larry hadn't even thought of for about ten years, not since geometry class, grade eleven.

The color of the jacket was mixed shades of brown, a strong background of freckled tobacco tones with subtle orange flecks. Very subtle. No one would say: hey, here comes this person with orange flecks distributed across his jacket. You'd have to be an inch away before you took in those flecks.

Orange wasn't Larry’s favorite color, at least not in the clothing line. He remembered He'd had orange swim trunks back in high school, MacDonald Secondary, probably about two sizes too big, since he was always worrying at that time in his life about his bulge showing, which was exactly the opposite of most guys, who made a big point of showing what they had. Modesty ran in his family, his mum, his dad, his sister, Midge, and once modesty gets into your veins you're stuck with it. Dorrie, on the other hand, doesn't even shut the bathroom door when she’s in there, going. A different kind of family altogether.

He'd had orange socks once too, neon orange. That didn't last too long. Pretty soon he was back to white socks. Sports socks. You got a choice between a red stripe around the top, a blue stripe, or no stripe at all. Even geeks like Larry and his friend Bill Herschel, who didn't go in for sports, they still wore those thick cotton sports socks every single day. You bought them three in a pack and they lasted about a week before they fell into holes. You always thought, hey, what a bargain, three pairs of socks at this fantastic price!

White socks went on for a long time in Larry’s life. A whole era.

Usually he didn't button a jacket, but it just came to him as he was walking along that he wanted to do up one of those leather buttons, the middle one. It felt good, not too tight over the gut. The guy must be about his own size, 40 medium, which is lucky for him. If, for example, He'd picked up Larry’s old jacket, he could throw it in the garbage tomorrow, but at least he wasn't walking around Winnipeg with just his shirt on his back. The nights got cool this time of year. Rain was forecast too.

A lot of people don't know that Harris tweed is virtually waterproof. You'd think cloth this thick and woolly would soak up water like a sponge, but, in actual fact, rain slides right off the surface. This was explained to Larry by a knowledgeable old guy who worked in menswear at Hector’s. That would be, what, nine, ten years ago, before Hector’s went out of business. Larry could tell that this wasn't just a sales pitch. The guy — he wore a lapel button that said “Salesman of the Year” — talked about how the sheep they've got over there are covered with special long oily hair that repels water. This made sense to Larry, a sheep standing out in the rain day and night. That was his protection.

Dorrie kept wanting him to buy a khaki trenchcoat, but he doesn't need one, not with his Harris tweed. You don't want bulk when you're walking along. He walks a lot. It’s when he does his thinking. He hums his thoughts out on the air like music; they've got a disco beat; My name is Larry Weller. I'm a floral designer, twenty-six years old, and I'm walking down Notre Dame Avenue, in the city of Winnipeg, in the country of Canada, in the month of April, in the year 1977, and I'm thinking hard. About being hungry, about being late, about having sex later on tonight. About how great I feel in this other guy’s Harris tweed jacket.

Meet the Author

Carol Shields (1935-2003) is the author of The Stone Diaries, which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Canada's Governor General's Award. Her other novels and short-story collections include The Republic of Love, Happenstance, Swann, The Orange Fish, Various Miracles, The Box Garden, and Small Ceremonies (all available from Penguin).

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Larry's Party 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Carol Shields is a great writer, and her portrayal here of a the man Larry Weller, who's something of a loser, is insightful. It is true that the story is not filled with action and tension on every page, or even every other page, but I found that refreshing- to follow this man through his life, see how he handled the next crisis that came up, see if he would ever figure out why he was such a loser. I think Shields did an excellant job of capturing the ho-hum-ness of life that we all have to deal with from time to time, some more than others. I think this book is an excellant study on character development, and Ms.Shields is still, in my book, one of the best writers of our time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In order:<p>Before Part 1: Larry res three<br>Part 1: Anine res one<br>Part 2: Arine res one<br>Part 2.5: Arine res two<br>Part 3: Arine res three<br>Parts 4&5: Abine res two<br>Part 6: Abine res three<br>Parts 7&8: Aeine res one<br>Part 9: Coming Soon! Asine res one<br>Part 10: Asine res two<p>This list is updated every five days. It may or may not be up to date. <p>Discover the lies in World of Lies,<br>&bull;&bull;Ana
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book started out EXTREMELY boring (pages and pages about a jacket that larry is wearing).....and stayed that way to the last page! There was NOTHING dramatic, exciting or climactic about the book whatsoever! Sure, tell me a story about an average Joe, but can you give me some sadness or laughter or SOMETHING to make it worth reading? Larry's first wife hires a bulldozer to destroy his precious hedge maze in the backyard....the chapter ends and in the next chapter, he's divorced. WHAT HAPPENED?? WHAT WAS SAID BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE?? Give me something to work with here!!! After the first chapter, i didn't want to read anymore, but i wanted to give it a chance. I considered tossing it out when i was half way through, but I forced myself to finish it, i shouldn't have! This book makes you think that the author was on a deadline to produce another book for her publisher and could come up with nothing to write about! So that's what she did, she wrote a book about........NOTHING!