Sunday, July 10, 2005

Initial thoughts on Larry's Party

Ok, so I did actually get to do some reading on the CA trip despite having to wrangle two travel-stressed kids (who actually did far better than I anticipated due to frequent train rides--who knew that the Bay Area was such a train enthusiasts' paradise?--and administrations of Jelly Belly bribes). I started and finished Carol Shields's Larry's Party and I'm interested to hear what other people thought about it (Annie, Ed, MJ?) because I liked it, but didn't love it and I haven't completely come to terms with what worked for me and what didn't.

Sorry about the shouting. I don't want to ruin the book for others because it is good enough to make it onto my Recommended Books list.

I know the ending, where Larry gets to the end of the maze of his life and finds Dorrie bugged me because I thought the whole point of the book was his search for self. Yes, I know many mazes end where they begin, but there was so much emphasis on getting to the center of the maze and having some sort of epiphany that I felt a annoyed that this turned out to be a circuitous maze.

Besides, something about the women characters, Dorrie, Beth and Charlotte, struck me as kind of hollow. Maybe they were supposed to strike me as "types" since they were perceived through the often-bewildered Larry. I found it hard to believe in Dorrie's transformation when Larry left her. I know it was supposed to be a shock that woke her up and made her appreciate her life and her place in the world, and by ripping up half of the maze around their house I assume she was symbolically freed and able to find herself rather than being trapped in Larry's maze. But I think the Dorrie that is portrayed before this scene is too sharp and flinty not to have a bit of bitterness--that she becomes this ideal mother and relatively easy ex-wife struck me as "off".

I did love the structure--I thought the way the chapters were broken down into facets of Larry's life was brilliant. I think Shields had a ball writing this book this way and I do think the writer's pleasure seeps onto the page. I particularly liked the chapters titled "Larry's Penis" (which I found much more tender and contemplative than I had anticipated) and "Men Called Larry" (which confronted assumptions about names--something that I've always loved thinking about). I thought the almost-entirely-in-dialogue last party scene was well done, though a little self conscious. (I still give the title of writing-in-dialogue-master to Richard Bausch for the first story "Aren't you happy for me?" in Rare and Endangered Species.)

So, those are some initial thoughts and I'd really like to hear what other readers think about the book.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Kate! I also finished Larry's Party (just before taking off on an impromptu trip to Miami, just me and the kids). Now my in-laws are in town and Elliot has a mysterious illness, so it might take me a day or so to collect my thoughts about Larry and respond to yours, but I will. Hope you're all well!

Anonymous said...

My feelings were much like yours, Kate. I loved the language, the structure, the surprise when things were not quite as jaunty or irreverent as you thought they were going to be from the section headings. Then feeling letdown when he ends with Dorrie again in the end. I have to believe Shields knew many readers would feel this way, but felt it was true to the story to have this happen and so stuck with it. Which is admirable, although I still didn't like it.