Larry's Party
1997

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 2001.

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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

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Awards

Winner Orange Prize 1998
Shortlisted Giller Prize 1997
Winner Prix de Lire 1998
Nominated New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Nominated Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour


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.

"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'."
- OrangePrize.co.uk

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

Review

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 names.


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 prose."
- Publisher Weekly

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

Interview 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."
- MacLean's

Discussion Questions

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Related Links

Carol Shields' daughter, Anne Giardini, commissioned this "interactive labyrinth" in 2008.

The Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth officially opened in King's Park, Winnipeg in May, 2009.

Essay

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 Wachtel,
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 free."

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. ...

Further Praise...


[Shields] has a knack for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary....Arrestingly real."
- New York Daily News

Larry's Party showcases the elegant phrasing and evocative imagery that render her work a rare treat."
- San Francisco Chronicle

Beguiling...a work of radiance...Larry's Party confirms Shields's preeminent position among contemporary novelists."
- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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 YorkTimes

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 and Mail

Triumphant."
- Publishers Weekly

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