Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Books: Larry's Party

Larry's Party, by Carol Shields (Random House, 1997) is a beautifully constructed maze of words which twist and turn, leading us into the person of a man named Larry Weller.

Shields is an exceptional, Pulitzer Prize winning writer. When I read her novels I'm immersed as much in her style of narrative as I am in the story itself. She's a writer's writer who inspires me to write and to think about the craft of story-telling and novel construction.

Larry's Party is about a rather ordinary man, born in 1950 to working class parents. He lives what could be described as an unremarkable life driven by happenstance, yet his remarks and observations, his questions and uncertainties, about this life are what make this work so remarkable.

Partly by chance, Larry becomes a florist after high school. During the honeymoon in England with his first wife, he wanders through a maze and eventually into a career as a maze maker. Mazes become a theme throughout the novel, explored as metaphors and subjects. This is effective, especially given Shields's narrative approach which winds around events rather than coming at them straight-on. As readers, we never witness the key events in Larry's life - his two marriages, the birth of his son, the death of his father - but these and other events are central to the mazes of his life and we walk him as he skirts around them, drawing closer and then father away.

The book is broken into thematic chapters that don't follow strict chronological line, but move both forward and backward, advancing the narrative but also returning to previous events and encounters. This suggests a series of related but stand-alone short stories - each one its own maze. My one complaint is that when reading this book quickly - as I did over the course of a few days - the repetition of certain facts (i.e. that Larry earned a degree in floral design in 1969) can become tiresome. Yet if you think of how we narrate and describe our own lives, there is often just such looping back and repetition of certain key facts.

Overall, this was a very satisfying read and a book I would highly recommend. Its funny, wise and well-crafted - a book which Maclean's fittingly described as a "resounding confirmation of the mystery of the ordinary."

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