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Friday, December 8, 2006

Larry's Party

Larry's Party by Carol Shields

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

April 3, 2003

It seems that I have to disagree with the majority about "Larry's Party". This book is not exceptional, great, or even good. It's a dull, plodding read with a bland central character. The few interesting things Larry Weller does are glossed over to make room for him to whine about every facet of his existence.

"Larry's Party" reminds me of another book I read recently, "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen. Both spend so much time explaining the past that the book never takes off in the present. In the case of "Larry's Party", the book will skip ahead a year or a few years, then go back to explain past events. For example, it starts in 1977, then Shields goes back to explain about who Larry is, where he's going, his relationship with his girlfriend, etc. Then it skips ahead a year and explains how and why Larry gets married. And so forth. To me, this isn't storytelling, it's explaining. It drains the emotion from the story, turning it into a clinical telling of past events.

Too much of the book is devoted to Larry sitting around contemplating the "sad" state of his life. By the end of the novel he has two ex-wives that don't hate him, a son who he's maybe a little distant from, a sister he's close to, lots of friends around the world, a good roof over his head, enough money to be comfortable, his own business...what the heck is he so depressed about? I have ZERO sympathy for a man who has a good life and still finds cause to whine. Sorry, Larry's a nice guy and all, but a lot of people have real problems, not just a pathetic midlife crisis.

The party of "Larry's Party" has to be the most obnoxious scene I've ever read. It's page after page of dialogue that overlaps into noise. I only intermittently knew who was speaking, which made it hard to follow. The party would have worked on the screen or stage, where I could see who's speaking, but not in a book. I've seen other authors who will do this sort of thing for a few lines or a page, but not for the better part of 30 pages.

So much is made of how the story is patterned like a maze, how Larry's life is like a maze, but there's nothing beyond that. It's a literary trick, a gimmick, and nothing more. Sadly, great novels are not made with gimmicks, but with engaging characters and an interesting story. This book has neither.

I'll recommend a couple of items that handle the subject of the male midlife crisis in a more entertaining way. First, check out the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Independence Day" by Richard Ford. That book's narrator also spends some time whining, but the storytelling is better and more interesting things happen. And I also recommend checking out the movie, "American Beauty" that won some Oscars a couple of years ago. There the central character grapples with a midlife crisis, but the movie is both hilarious and touching at the same time. Both are superior to "Larry's Party".

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