Reviewed: July 29, 2007
By: Carol Shields / read by R.H. Thompson
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
4 CDs, 5 hours, $35.00
Party is fairly littered with mazes, real and figurative. This may be
the reason why there is so much repetition in the story, so much time spent
ruminating over events that we have already seen from one point of view, events
encapsulated and reexamined as Larry Weller sorts his way through the maze of
ambushed (pun intended) by mazes while on his honeymoon trip in England. An
unremarkable young man, Larry had never really had his attention captured quite
like that. His profession, an employee in a flower shop, had come about because
the community college he attended sent him the wrong brochures. He had drifted
into his love affair with Dorrie and, while they had intended to get married,
that step had been hurried along when she found herself pregnant.
have been in the 1970s, when having children out of wedlock was not something
lifestyle columnists routinely did and wrote books about)
didn’t work. Dorrie was, in her own words, not grown up enough to be married,
though she was grown up enough to become a successful business woman. Larry was
trying to be a good father and husband but he was also creating his very first
maze all around their house, instead of the simple, normal lawn she thought
would be best. It all drove her nuts , and then came the back hoe and that was the
end of the marriage.
is full of slightly disturbed women. Even before his marriage to Dorrie, we
learn that Larry’s in a family plagued by unfortunate events. Embedded in Larry’s
story is the tale of how his parents immigrated to Canada from England, a tale
which has its roots in the evening that Larry’s grandmother died of food
poisoning. Mrs. Weller’s improperly bottled green beans were the death of her
mother-in-law. It was an accident, of course, but her father-in-law’s cries of “murderer”
drove the young married couple from their native soil and planted them in
his creator, Larry spends a lot of time flitting back and forth between Canada
and the USA, from Winnipeg to Chicago to Toronto. In the middle period he becomes
a successful, sought after landscape designer specializing in mazes. He also
has a second, apparently much more successful, marriage, at least until Beth
becomes so wrapped up in her academic specialty (women and religion) that she
decides to become a nun (not fully, but practically), moving to England and
embracing celibacy with all the ardor with which she once embraced Larry.
by this turn of events, Larry, whose business is completely portable, decides
to return to Canada, and settles in Toronto. He is fortunate to be living back
in his own native land when encephalitis knocks him out and puts him in the
hospital, unconscious, for several weeks.
is the sense of his own mortality that gives him the idea to have his party.
Perhaps it is the coincidence of knowing that both his ex-wives are going to be
in the city at the same time. He is prodded by his current lady friend,
Charlotte, to bring them all together and see what happens. I’m not going to
tell you about that. Listen to the book or read it and find out for yourself.
Thompson does a tremendous job reading this abridgment, capturing the
congenial, loving, and slightly deprecating tone of voice that Shields uses to
tell Larry’s story. The narrator is in Larry’s head and nowhere else during the
entire novel. You are aware of the observer and commentator, but not in an
annoying way at all. It’s like someone has sat down to tell you about a well
What you don’t
get from this BTC production is the sense of focus provided by the chapter
titles, beginning with “15 minutes in the life of Larry Weller, 1977”; and carrying on
through “Larry's Love, 1978”; “Larry's Folks, 1980”; “Larry Inc., 1988”; “Larry's
Living Tissues, 1996”; and “Larry's Party 1997”. There are fifteen chapters in
all, and a number of them back up to ruminate over the same history but with a
different focus, depending on the chapter’s theme.
Shields died of cancer
in 2003 and the city of Winnipeg recently announced that it would be creating a
garden to honour the P. Gardens feature
prominently in both The Stone Diaries and in this novel, and it is
especially fitting that the centerpiece of this garden will be a maze.