Larry’s Party by Carol Shields

Shields, Carol - Larry's Party

I’m 50 later this year and planning to have a small house party to mark the occasion.  I want the night to be special, obviously, but not pretentious or over complicated.  Even though it’s four months away, I’m already starting to worry about which date would be best, who to invite, what kind of event, what food to serve, how to decorate the place, what to wear, etc, etc.  So I have to hand it to Larry for pulling off a successful dinner party – the party of the title – when the guests include his current “girlfriend” and both his ex-wives!

Larry’s party comes at the end of the book. By then we’ve followed Larry as child and man, taking in failed marriages, accidental career success, and the odd healthscare along the way.

The book won the Orange Prize in 1997.  A review quoted on the back calls it “a brilliant reflection on what it may be like to be a man in the late twentieth century” (Penelope Lively, Independent). That’s fine as far as it goes (and I haven’t read the review in full) but it’s too narrow, too constricting.  Larry isn’t so much an Every Man as an Every Person.  He’s a normal guy finding his way through life as best he can, trying to make the right choices, like someone negotiating one of the mazes he designs for a living. There’s a bit of Larry in all of us because Larry is what it feels like to be human.

And that, I’d say, is Shield’s gift: to point a prism at normal life and show us its many colours, to capture the mundane and, by the act of capturing, transform it into something beautiful.  Something worth marking.  And that, perhaps, is the very best reason of all to throw a party.

*** Highly recommended

I also highly recommend Shield’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner The Stone Diaries.


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