Thursday, September 10, 2009

Larry's Party by Carol Shields

I think it is unavoidable that you want to compare the books you read back-to-back. What struck me between, the largely dissimilar, No Great Mischief and Larry’s Party was that in both novels the main characters move to the States! Why must our heroes leave?!?! Not sure if this theme will continue, but something to keep my eye out for- is it Canadian literature if our characters all run south of the border?

Other than the sojourn to the United States, Chicago to be precise, Lawrence Weller, or Larry as he is most often called, spends the large portion of his life in Winnipeg. It is there that we are first introduced to Larry, in 1977, just as he has met Dorrie who would become his first wife. We are re-introduced to Larry in each chapter, recounting where we have come so far and moving us forward in the story. Truthfully, re-introducing Larry in each chapter got a bit tiring by the middle of the novel, but by the end I had settled into the writing style.

Larry is a bit of an anti-hero; he stumbles through life, in his career as a florist and then as a maze maker, and he stumbles through his relationships.

He was raised in Winnipeg with his older sister, by his British-born parents. They had come to Canada after Larry’s mother accidentally poisoned her mother-in-law with pickled beans. Larry is a mediocre student growing up and when a local college accidentally sends him a brochure for floral design, rather than appliance repairs, Larry becomes a florist. When Larry and his girlfriend Dorrie (accidentally) get pregnant, they get married. It is on their honeymoon in Britain that Larry goes through his first maze. From there he becomes obsessed- building one in his yard and then going on to become a widely recognized maze expert.

The first maze proves to be the end of his first marriage, but his success brings him to Chicago and into his second marriage. Larry’s relationships are the focus of the novel- his family, his wives, his son, his lover. This culminates in a dinner party Larry holds (by this time living in Toronto), giving the book its title.

Carol Shields writes very well. The story reads at a nice pace and she left me with good image of Larry and his life. The language is not particularly flowery or poetic, but perfect in its simplicity and straight forward manner.

A worthwhile read- I am hitting two for two!

Up next: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

- Katy

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