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Larry's Party

About the Book

Larry's Party


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.

Larry's Party
by Carol Shields

  • Publication Date: September 1, 1998
  • Paperback: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0140266771
  • ISBN-13: 9780140266771