Larry's Party

( 5 )

Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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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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.

From Barnes & 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140266771
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 276,902
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.91 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Shields
Carol Shields is one of Canada's best-loved and most internationally celebrated authors. Born in the US, she married a Canadian and moved here in 1957, where she raised five children. She is the author of more than 20 books of fiction, drama, poetry and literary criticism, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries. Sadly, Carol died of complications from breast cancer in 2003.

R.H. Thomson is one of Canada's most respected actors of stage and screen. He has appeared in leading roles at most major Canadian theatre companies, including title roles in Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Glenn (a play based on the life of celebrated pianist Glenn Gould). The recipient of numerous awards, including several Gemini and Dora Mavor Moore awards, he is best known for his work in film and television, including the role of Jasper in the long-running television series Road

Biography

Carol Shields's characters are often on the road less traveled, and the trip is never boring. She has written about a folklorist, a poet, a maze designer, a translator, even other writers -- appropriate professions in novels in which characters struggle to find their own paths in life.

Shields often focused on female characters, most notably in The Stone Diaries, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel documenting the birth, death, and everything in between of Daisy Goodwill. Goodwill's story is told over a century, in various voices, featuring Shields's wry humor and her ability to convey what she has called "the arc of human life."

But don't pigeonhole Shields as a "women's writer." "I have directed a fair amount of energy and rather a lot of rage into that particular corner [of the] problem of men and women, particularly men and women who write and how women's novels are perceived differently from men's," Shields said in a 2001 interview. In 1997's Larry's Party, she swapped genders, writing from the perspective of a male floral designer who discovers a passion for mazes.

Unafraid to experiment with genres, Shields wrote an epistolary novel (A Celibate Season, coauthored with Blanche Howard), a sort of "literary mystery" about the posthumous discovery of a murdered poet's genius (Swann), and short stories (collected in Dressing for the Carnival and other titles). Though she often covered serious topics, she rarely did so without humor. Her novel of mid-life romance, Republic of Love, was called by The New York Times a "touching, elegantly funny, luscious work of fiction," an assessment that could be applied to the bulk of her work.

Shields changed her viewpoint yet again for Unless, but the circumstance was a tragic one. The book, which resurrects the main character from Dressing Up for the Carnival's "A Scarf," was written during the author's battle with breast cancer. "I never want to sound at all mystical about writing,'' she said in a 2002 interview, ''but this book -- it just came out." Though not touching on her own illness, Shields did what she had always done -- took her own questions and lessons, then used them to produce a story that speaks its own truth.

Shields passed away on July 16, 2003; she was 68.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Carol Ann Warner
    2. Hometown:
      Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 2, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oak Park, Illinois
    1. Date of Death:
      July 16, 2003
    2. Place of Death:
      Toronto, Canada

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Fifteen Minutes in the Life of Larry Weller

1977


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.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Fifteen Minutes in the Life of Larry Weller

1977


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? A jacket's a jacket. A person who patronized aplace 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.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Larry's Party

MEET LARRY WELLER

What is this mighty labyrinth—the earth,
But a wild maze the moment of our birth?
("Reflections on Walking in the Maze at Hampton Court," British Magazine, 1747)

Meet Larry Weller. Born in 1950 to working class parents, he's an ordinary guy. His life is punctuated by unremarkable events: marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, job changes, illness, and the death of his parents. Even the pockets of his own tweed jacket are stuffed with leftovers from his ordinary life: nickels, dimes, old movie stubs, and a gathering of gritty little bits of lint collected in the seams. The only extraordinary thing about Larry Weller is that he is the subject of Larry's Party, the new novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields that celebrates the twisting—and often chaotic—path of his life.

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

Larry's life unfolds before him as a series of mistakes and coincidences. When Red River College sends him a brochure for Flower Design, instead of the requested Furnace Repair, Larry learns how to arrange flowers for a living. When his date to a Halloween party wears an unappealing pirate costume, Larry's eye wanders and falls upon a cute Martian named Dorrie. A year later, Dorrie accidentally gets pregnant and becomes the first Mrs. Larry Weller. Perhaps the most significant coincidence occurs on their honeymoon in England, where Larry allows himself to get lost in the Hampton Court garden maze. While halfheartedly navigating his way through the lush green labyrinth, Larry realizes that he revels in taking wrong turns, that "getting lost, and then found, seemed the whole point." Mazes become not only Larry's passion and life's work, but also a mirror for Carol Shields's winding, looping narrative and the episodic structure of Larry's Party.

Carol Shields knows that life's breathless moments of clarity arise unexpectedly, and that we all must cull wisdom—like Larry—from "sideways comments over lemon meringue pie, sudden bursts of comprehension or weird parallels that come curling out of the radio, out of a movie, off the pages of a newspaper, out of a joke." Larry's odyssey through life—and the reader's journey through this novel—is random yet patterned.

At the end of the novel, Larry gathers all of his friends and lovers together for a party. Over roasted lamb and fine wine they banter about the meaning of life. Life, they say, is the ultimate maze, and a maze is "our thumbprint on the planet." One guest observes that "at the center of the maze there's an encounter with oneself...a sense of rebirth." Ah...yes, Carol Shields seems to be saying. In spite of fate's marvelously unpredictable inner compass, people often seem to get to the right place, which is the center of the self.


ABOUT CAROL SHIELDS

The youngest of three children, Carol Shields was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1935. She studied at Hanover College, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Ottawa, where she received her M.A.

In 1957, she married Donald Hugh Shields, a professor of Civil Engineering, and moved to Canada. She has lived there ever since. In addition to raising five children, all now grown, Shields has worked as a professor at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba. She lives in Winnipeg, where she is the Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg.

Shields is the author of several novels and short-story collections, including The Orange Fish, Swann, Various Miracles, Happenstance, and The Republic of Love. Her books have won a Canada Council Major Award, National Magazine Awards, the Canadian Author's Award, and a CBC short story award. In 1995, Shields received the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries. The Stone Diaries also won the National Book Critics' Circle Award, Canada's Governor General Award, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and was named a Notable Book by The New York Times Book Review and one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. Most recently, Shields received the United Kingdom's Orange Prize for Fiction for Larry's Party


AUTHOR INTERVIEW
An interview with Carol Shields

Many people have called Larry Weller the "male counterpart" to Daisy Goodwill, the character in The Stone Diaries. Is that what you were trying to accomplish? Did you think about Daisy at all when you were writing about Larry?

I don't think of Larry as a male counterpart to Daisy Goodwill. The book seemed to me a separate endeavor. For one thing, [Larry's Party] surveys a slice of a life, not a whole life. I chose to look at Larry between the ages of 27 and 47, since it is during this period, I think, that most of our life choices are made. My idea was to lead him to "the center of the maze," a resting place in his life, but not the final resting place. Of course, I thought of Daisy as I wrote about this very ordinary man. It seems I am always thinking about gender and how the "accident" of gender alters our behavior and our expectations.

I've read you believe that coincidences are at the heart of what makes the universe go round. With Larry's Party, did you set out to write a novel that brought this theory into focus? Has coincidence played a significant part in your own life?

I am deeply interested in synchronicity and, in fact, all forms of coincidence. In Larry's life, accident plays a major role, and he is the sort of person who allows this to happen. He is, in a sense, someone who lets life happen to him, but then I believe most of us fall into that particular camp. I've heard people say that we write our own script, but I've never been able to believe it. The forces of the world are too many and too complex to permit us this privilege. I suppose my life is as full of historical accident as anyone else's. I was born in the depression, spent a wartime childhood, married in the fifties. All these kinds of things must color in the squares of an individual life.

Why did you write Larry's Party in the third person, and not first person?

Except for my first two novels (Small Ceremonies and The Box Garden), I've mostly written in the third person. Each position permits a writer certain liberties and imposes a balancing set of restrictions, but I find more and more that third person allows me to enter the narratives of people whose lives are very different from my own.

Language and communication are tremendously important to Larry. In fact, he all but says that his lack of vocabulary was a key factor in the breakup of his first marriage. Does a large, articulate vocabulary heighten the experiences of life? What about unspoken or unwritten communication?

I've always sensed that language is the great liberator. The fitting phrase, the precise word—these permit us to be more nearly ourselves. Like everyone else, though, I sometimes fear there is too much language pouring down on us, an overdose of communication that deadens us to private reflection.

Are there times that you find yourself struggling to articulate a particular sensation or feeling? Do you think that there is a word for every stop on the entire spectrum of human emotion?

I struggle all the time, and have come to understand that certain human responses leak around the edges of language. Larry Weller knows this too, when he wonders whether language has evolved to the point where it can be fully expressive. I suppose writers use the nuances of tone when language itself fails us, or the useful tricks of metaphor.

How did the narrative order of Larry's Party unfold? Did you know from the beginning that his journey through life would be a circular one?

I love to create structures for novels, and I very early saw a double structure in Larry's Party. There was the ongoing chronological framework, in which I cut into his life every year or two to see what was going on. And then there was what I call a CAT scan structure in which I slice transversely into an aspect of his life—his folks, his work, his friends. This second structure was particularly useful to me since I was struck by the fact that men, on the whole, tend to compartmentalize their lives more than most women do.

You've said, "I've learnt that men don't often ask questions; women ask questions and men supply information." In Larry's Party, Larry seems to be asking the questions, while the women he surrounds himself with answer them. Is Larry an exceptional case or are you making more general claims about male/female relationships?

Perhaps Larry is more searching than most men. Certainly he asks the major existential questions: How did I get here? Is this all there is? But I'm not sure he asks the smaller and necessary questions. He doesn't probe his mother's religious impulses, nor ask his sister if she is happy. And he scarcely communicates with the young Dorrie at all.

How different do you think the men and women coming of age today are from those that grew up in the fifties? Do you think that our roles in relationships are "wired" in such a way that no matter what generation, certain elements of our relationships will ultimately remain the same? Do you believe that men and women are "wired" differently?

We went through an interesting period in the seventies when we optimistically believed that given the same kind of conditioning, men and women would grow increasingly alike in their personalities. This seems not to have happened; I can only suppose that our differences are Darwinian in nature and that they are likely to remain differences. The best we can do, perhaps, is modify extremes and cultivate sensitivity.

Your previous novel, The Stone Diaries, won the Pulitzer prize. Did you feel exceptionally pressured to write a book that would match your prior success?

Oddly, I felt no pressure at all after winning the Pulitzer. Certainly I was not badgered by my publishers. I've never believed that writers must "top" themselves with each new book. A creative life doesn't work that way, thank heavens. Most of us write out of where we are at the moment and we write the very best book we're capable of.

You've written a novel about the typical twentieth-century woman, Daisy Goodwill. You've written a novel about the typical twentieth-century man, Larry Weller. What is next?

I suppose I'll continue to write about certain unresolved questions: the question of art and who makes it, the problems and puzzles of gender, and the arc of a human life which is, in the end, the only plot that interests me.


PRAISE

"Beguiling...a work of radiance...Larry's Party confirms Shields's preeminent position among contemporary novelists." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Using her fierce gift for observation, a natural storytelling talent and a gently comic charm, [Shields] gives us a nicely tactile sense of Larry's ordinary life." —The New York Times

"Shields captures an unremarkable man in a remarkable light." —Time

"[Shields] has a knack for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary....Arrestingly real." —New York Daily News

"Larry's Party showcases the elegant phrasing and evocative imagery that render her work a rare treat." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Triumphant." —Publishers Weekly


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Larry's Party is written entirely in the third person. How does this affect the tone of the book? Who do you imagine is telling Larry's story?
  2. Why do you think Carol Shields presented Larry's life in episodic flashes? Does the structure of the book reflect Larry's obsession with mazes? How?
  3. All of the major events in Larry's life—marriage, divorce, childbirth, job changes—are omitted from the novel. We read, in passing, that Larry has had a child. We never witness Larry actually getting divorce papers, or packing up his desk. Why do you think Carol Shields chose to do this? Do you feel it is effective? Is it true that often it isn't the actual event that bears significance, but the days, months, and years that follow?
  4. In Chapter Five, titled "Larry's Words," the narrator says, "What else, really, does [Larry] need in his life but more words? When you add up the world and its words you get a kind of cosmic sandwich, two thick slices of meaning with nothing required in between." Consider the importance of words in Larry's Party. How does Larry's evolving vocabulary affect his relationships?
  5. How is Larry's marriage to Dorrie unlike his marriage to Beth? How and why does Larry experience these marriages so differently? Several times the narrator refers to Larry as having left Dorrie. Is this really true? If Dorrie had not dug up Larry's garden maze, do you think that he would have resigned himself to staying in a mediocre marriage?
  6. "They were about to be matter-of-factly claimed by familiar streets and houses and the life they'd chosen or which had chosen them." This theme, fate as a controlling fact in our lives, pervades Larry's Party. Are there any instances of Larry controlling his own fate, or making a precipitous decision? If not, does this make Larry a passive person, or merely a person at peace with the maze of life?
  7. Do you think that the women in Larry's Party are more in control of their destinies than Larry is of his?
  8. Work plays an important role in the lives of the people in Larry's Party—the most obvious example being Larry and his garden mazes. What about Dorrie and Beth? Do their jobs mirror their own personalities and the paths that their lives have taken?
  9. With the exception of a few uneasy visits with Larry and Beth and reading Larry the newspaper while he was in a coma, Larry's son doesn't play a significant part in the novel. Larry's relationships with women often seem to take precedence. Is this unrealistic, or is it an unfortunate consequence of modern divorce? Do you think that Larry's son will learn more life lessons from his mother than from his father? Is Larry a good father?
  10. In the final chapter, dinner conversation revolves around the question, "What's it like being a man these days?" Has Carol Shields answered this question in Larry's Party? Is Larry a typical man of the '90s?
  11. At one point a dinner guest observes that, "at the center of the maze there's an encounter with one's self." Has Larry encountered himself yet? When?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2001

    Worst book i think I've EVER read!!

    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!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    To Ana

    Where did you go?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    World of Lies: Locations

    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>••Ana

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    A portrait of a man

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2010

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