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I just finished Larry’s Party by Carol Shields for The Second Canadian Book Challenge. I’m a Yukoner now. Nine books. Yikes. Time to get serious; I should drop everything and read Canadian till the first of July, eh? Pass the double-doubles and keep ’em coming.

Larry’s Party follows Winnipeg, Manitoba native Larry Weller for twenty years, 1977-1997. During that time he changes from a slightly goofy 26-year-old to a 46-year-old who has recently had a rather serious brush with mortality. Along the way, the reader has glimpses of Larry as an awkward teenager and gets to meet his parents, his sister, his two wives, his son and his friends. At the center of Larry’s life is his career and his passion — creating landscape mazes.

.Shields constructed the novel like a maze, and at the center is Larry’s dinner party in Toronto where many of the characters meet for the first time. Carol Shields juggles a nine-way conversation between these people with incredible deftness and humor, and revelations are made. The party may be the center of Shields’ novel, but if Larry’s life is a maze, this seems less the center than another turn or possibly he’s back where he began. I like it that Shields left readers something to mull over.

I was reminded of her previous novel, The Stone Diaries (1996 Pulitzer fiction winner), which also examines a character (Daisy Goodwill Flett) at various junctures in her life. Old photographs are used in both novels, although in Larry’s Party, this is limited to a black-and-white baby picture of Larry which is on the cover of the Canadian edition and is described in full detail. This technique is a little disconcerting. Who are these people, really? Of the two novels, I preferred Larry’s Party slightly more. The Stone Diaries leaves readers stranded on a gloomy note by necessity.
Browsing the internet, I learned that Larry’s Party was made into a musical several years ago. Sometimes, I’m guilty of muttering something along the lines of WTF? when I read or hear that a book has been made into a musical. This time, I was charmed by the idea and could see how it would work beautifully. Have any of you seen it?

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