Larry's Party


340 pages
ISBN 0-679-39877-6
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the trade, scholarly, and reference editor of the
Canadian Book Review Annual.


In a novel that could have been subtitled Anatomy of an Ordinary Person,
Carol Shields chronicles a 20-year period in the life of a man who came
across as “an unmemorable smudge” in his high-school yearbook.

When we first meet him, in 1977, Larry Weller is 26 and working as a
floral designer in Winnipeg. His first act—leaving a coffee shop with
another man’s Harris tweed jacket (by mistake, not design)—sets the
stage for a life marked by contingency and happenstance. Headed by such
elemental titles as “Larry’s Love,” “Larry’s Work,” and
“Larry’s Threads,” the book’s 15 chapters constitute a
dissection of all the aspects of Larry’s life, from his obsession with
mazes, to his two marriages, to the mechanics of his penis.

As he sheds old roles and assumes new ones, Larry is haunted by
feelings of dislocation. At 45, he “doesn’t know how to be the
person he’s become”; by 46, he’s “lost the trick of keeping
track of himself.” Yet Larry’s very ordinariness is a stabilizing
force; for this Everyman, life offers “orderly prescriptive stages.”
Fittingly, the central metaphor for Larry’s existence is the maze,
which represents “controlled chaos and contrived panic.” Mazes
confer not only confusion on their users, but also “the unexpected
rapture of being blindly led” to a goal or “final destination.”

The author’s formidable powers of observation are on glorious display
in this intricate, witty, and psychologically acute novel. Like John
Updike in his later works, Shields is brilliant at eliciting universal
truths from the commonplace, and at sustaining an exquisite tension
between competing moods of wonderment and melancholy. Larry’s Party is
a wise and beautifully written successor to The Stone Diaries.


Shields, Carol., “Larry's Party,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,