Larry’s Party is the third novel I’ve read by Carol Shields; it won the Orange Prize in 1998. Having loved the previous two, The Stone Diaries and (especially) Unless, I had high hopes for this one as well. However, it didn’t really live up to my expectations.
Over the course of his life, Larry Weller goes from flower arranger at a flower store to a master designer of landscape mazes. I’m not that into botany, so that part was only marginally interesting to me; however, I would definitely like to visit some of the mazes described in the book, particularly in Europe. More interesting to me was the progression in Larry’s thought life and love life over the course of the book. He starts out not knowing much about himself or what he wants in his twenties and of course knowing himself infinitely better by the time he’s in his late forties. Youth is so wasted on the young, right? (Not that there aren’t exceptions to you youngsters out there!) Being in my early forties, I definitely related to that aspect of the book.
“He (Larry) is recovering; in a sense he’s spent his whole life in a state of recovery, but has only begun, at age forty-five, to breathe in the vital foreknowledge of what will become of the sovereign self inside him, that luxurious ornament. He’d like that self to be more musical and better lit, he’d like to possess a more meticulous sense of curiosity, and mostly he’d like someone, some thing to love. He’s getting close. He feels it. He’s halfway awake now, and about to wake up fully.”
Some of the aspects I didn’t like about the book are that it was a little boring in places, i.e. the botany and the fact that Larry is just a regular Joe with not much in the way of personality. I think that was supposed to be the point, though. There is even a chapter dedicated to his name and what the stereotypes of “Larrys” are. Another aspect is that in quite a few places she repeats details that we already know about characters or events. I know that was by design, but I’m not sure I liked it. Also, it is a bit raunchy in places. There’s a chapter called “Larry’s P#n*s” that goes on and on in very descriptive detail about that specific body part and all the different names for it that people use. Some people would find that extremely funny, I’m sure, but I could have done without the more graphic parts of that chapter.
The last chapter is called “Larry’s Party,” and that chapter and the dinner party itself wrapped up everything in Larry’s life to that point very nicely. I really liked the metaphor that our lives are mazes. Sometimes there’s only one way in and one way out. Sometimes there are four exits. But always, there is the ‘goal’ in the center. Honestly, the last chapter made me lift my rating from 3 1/2 stars to 4. It was very cleverly done. And although this book was my least favorite of Shields’ books so far, I still plan on reading many more if not all of her works. I really do think she was an amazing writer.