Orange Prize Challenge #1: “Larry’s Party”

Courtesy of Wikipedia

So, as I posted earlier, I’m reading all of the Orange Prize winners that I haven’t yet read. I started with 1998 winner “Larry’s Party” by Carol Shields, and though it took me a relatively short time to get through, I am baffled as to how this book won the prize, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award that year. I haven’t read any of the shortlisted nominees from that year, but “Larry’s Party” did not impress me in the least.

The story follows Larry Weller through his life from a young college graduate working as a florist to a world-class landscape designer with a specialty in garden mazes. He gets married (and divorced) twice, has a son along the way, and generally just floats through life with a few exciting bits and quite a bit of good luck. It’s almost as if Shields came up with her character, spent a huge amount of time figuring out his backstory, writing reams and reams of material on Larry’s past, and then decided, ‘Hey, this should be the book.’ And while character studies can be interesting, I didn’t see any reason to spend time exploring Larry Weller’s life, even if Shields’ goal was to write a book about an ordinary man. I don’t know about you, but I want to read about extraordinary things since I’m pretty ordinary myself.

I was also put off by the setting, both time and place, of the novel. Most of “Larry’s Party” takes place in Canada, which, for some reason in this book, seems to take place in an alternate universe — it looks like the one we live in, but there’s something just a little bit off. It also takes place predominantly in the ’80s and the early ’90s, so the consumer culture that ran rampant then is prevalent throughout the novel. It’s all about moving up in society, and it’s hard to get a grasp on Shields’ tone. Does she admire Larry, or is she making fun of him for buying into the general thought of the time? Or is she totally neutral, saying this is how an ordinary man lives (I don’t think so…).

Anyway, this could’ve been the Orange Prize figuring out what they’re looking for in a winner, and Shields was an extremely famous Canadian author. I haven’t read anything else by her, so perhaps her other acclaimed novel “The Stone Diaries” would be more my speed. After this, it’s on to 1999 winner “A Crime in the Neighborhood” by Suzanne Berne.

“Larry’s Party”: C-

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Comments

  1. I have many mixed reviews on Larry’s Party and that’s why it still sits on my shelf, waiting to be read. I hope your next book is better! =)

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