Protagonist Larry Weller is an ordinary
man, a fumbler, who stumbles into clarity when he visits
the maze at Hampton Court on his bus tour honeymoon in
1978. Larry loves garden mazes - so like life with their
teasing treachery and promise of reward - and he learns
how to build them to please the baffled child in his rich
clients. Driven by happenstance,
Larry moves through the spontaneity of the seventies,
the blind enchantment of the eighties and the lean, mean
nineties, finding at last, at the heart of his own personal
maze, a stubborn selfhood and surprised happiness.
The stage play Larry's Party:The
Musical was written by Richard Ouzounian and Marek
Norman and produced in Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg in
here to order.
What is this mighty labyrinth -
But a wild maze the moment of our birth?
on Walking in the Maze at Hampton Court," British
here to read excerpt.
Orange Prize 1998
Giller Prize 1997
Prix de Lire 1998
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
"Larry's Party is
a beautiful, touchingly intimate read, cleverly constructed
to reflect Larry's obsession; we are led through his
life as if through a maze - including the occasional
dead end - and the descriptions are superb, '[Larry]
senses that his life is quietly clearing its throat,
getting ready, at last, to speak'."
Larry Weller first discovers his real passion on
honeymoon in London. To be precise at Hampton Court's
maze. And from then on mazes provide the metaphor
for his attempts to untangle his own life and needs,
plus understand those of the people around him,
over twenty years of the late twentieth century.
I am very, very fond of Larry's
Party. I very much admire the work of the
late Carol Shields, and I'm glad that she is accorded
the stature I think she deserves. She's one of those
quiet writers. And I think Larry's Party is
marvellous for two reasons. Firstly, it's structure,
which was very bold, very inventive. And, secondly,
how she really got into the heart of a male character,
which I think was a superb achievement."
- Bel Mooney,
in interview with Kate Mosse, 2008
Revenge of the Nerd
- In Carol Shields' new novel, Larry's Party,
delight is just a sweeter form of nervousness
By Richard von Busack
NOVELIST Carol Shields sometimes
writes about how we carry the key to life's apparently
unsolvable mysteries around with us. In The Stone Diaries,
her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 novel, a quarryman named
Magnus pores over one of his only remembrances of his
dead wife, Clarentine. It is a photo of the woman posing
in 1902 with a few other members of her "Ladies Rhythm
and Movement Club."
Clarentine had abandoned Magnus
many years before, and he doesn't really know why. Indeed,
neither of them really knows that it was because Clarentine
was a lover of women. In any case, there were no words
for that sort of love in Clarentine's time--and no way
for her to act on it even if there were.
Shields' new novel, Larry's Party
(Viking Press), takes place over a 20-year period, from
1979 to 1997, and stars a man who is Larry by name and
Larry by nature. Shields suggests that for every Larry
Holmes and Larry Olivier, there are thousands of anonymous
men who live under the shade of this most unassuming of
This triumphant novel runs in delicious counterpoint
to Shields' evocation of Daisy Goodwill's life in
the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries...
The novel glows with Shields' unsentimental optimism
and her supple command of a sweetly ironic and graceful
Above all, what you hear as you
read Larry's Party is Carol Shields's gratitude
for the story she has to tell. It's a gratitude the
reader shares completely."
- The New
York Times Book Review, Verlyn Klinkenborg
Carol Shields's novel raises such
questions on the limited choices that result from
unexamined lives. Shields's provocative hero offers
her readers an excellent conversation piece for dinner
parties. Larry's Party is a curiously unsettling
comedy of our time."
- Los Angeles
Times Sunday Book Review, Judith Hall
with Carol Shields
Q. Many people have called Larry
Weller the "male counterpart" to Daisy Goodwill, the character
in The Stone Diaries. Is that what you were trying to
accomplish? Did you think about Daisy at all when you
were writing about Larry?
A. I don't think of Larry as
a male counterpart to Daisy Goodwill. The book seemed
to me a separate endeavor. For one thing, [Larry's Party]
surveys a slice of a life, not a whole life. I chose to
look at Larry between the ages of 27 and 47, since it
is during this period, I think, that most of our life
choices are made. My idea was to lead him to "the center
of the maze," a resting place in his life, but not the
final resting place. Of course, I thought of Daisy as
I wrote about this very ordinary man. It seems I am always
thinking about gender and how the "accident" of gender
alters our behavior and our expectations.
With Larry's Party, Carol
Shields proves that there is a language for happiness
that is original and engaging. And like all her fictional
works--replete with the significance of small lives
and small ceremonies--it is a resounding confirmation
of the mystery of the ordinary."
here for discussion questions.
Shields' daughter, Anne Giardini, commissioned this "interactive
labyrinth" in 2008.
Shields Memorial Labyrinth officially opened in King's
Park, Winnipeg in May, 2009.
Larry's Party - 1997
"Actually, there are parties
in all of my books, and I hadn't realized this, but
it was pointed out to me by a very astute critic, who
tracked the parties right back to Small Ceremonies,
where there's a kind of suburban buffet supper. I love
parties, and more than the parties, I love the idea
of parties. I love the idea of people gathering under
a roof, strangers or friends or both, where there's
a flow of food, a flow of talk, movement, human movement,
where certain possibilities are produced that don't
occur in our non-party lives."
- Carol Shields
from the 1997 interview "The Arc of a Life" with Eleanor
published in Random Illuminations, Conversations
with Carol Shields
"Later, Larry memorized the formula for
getting through the maze. He could recite it easily for
anyone who cared to listen. Turn left as you enter the
maze, then right, right again, then left, left, left and
yet another left. That brings you to the centre. To get
out, you unwind, turning right, then three more rights,
then a left at the next two turnings, and you're home
If only the maze of Larry Weller's life,
or our own for that matter, could be so easy.
In fact, on this first visit to the Hampton
Court maze on his honeymoon, Larry Weller took a wrong
turn and became lost in the maze. Carol Shields herself
had the same experience in this particular maze as have
many of us encountering hedge mazes. And yet, there is
a certain satisfaction in finding your way, reaching the
centre, even in the trying. In Larry's Party, Carol describes
it that "getting lost, and then found, seemed the whole
point, that and the moment of willed abandonment, the
unexpected rapture of being blindly led".
For Larry Weller the maze experience was
the beginning of a passion and, eventually, a career.
For the readers of Larry's Party, the maze is an integral
part of the story, the very structure of the novel itself
and even visually stimulating as each new chapter begins
and we are greeting with a different maze drawing below
the intriguing titles which draw us into Larry's world.
[Shields] has a knack for turning the ordinary into
the extraordinary....Arrestingly real."
- New York
Larry's Party showcases the
elegant phrasing and evocative imagery that render her
work a rare treat."
- San Francisco
Beguiling...a work of radiance...Larry's
Party confirms Shields's preeminent position among
- The Philadelphia
Using her fierce gift for observation, a natural storytelling
talent and a gently comic charm, [Shields] gives us
a nicely tactile sense of Larry's ordinary life. "
- The New
Shields' fiction - intricately plotted
machines with ordinary people as the moving parts-seems
so modestly designed to give pleasure and diversion,
it's easy to underestimate the artistry.... Shields
has taken her place alongside such Canadian writers
as Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood."
- The Globe
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