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I have just finished reading Larry’s Party by Carol Shields. I had previously read Unless by the same author and had enjoyed it, despite finding it a bit lengthy at times. The same can be said of Larry’s Party. It is not so much that it is lengthy, but that it is sometimes repetitive because of its structure. The book is indeed divided into autonomous chapters which are connected to a particular year in Larry’s life. Each chapter could actually stand on its own and make a short story since it does not seem necessary to have read the whole book to appreciate each chapter. The chapters are also written like short stories: they do not relate the year but only an aspect of it; they are therefore suggestive and evocative. However, this chapter autonomy also means that some information is constantly repeated, which can get a little annoying.
Through these various chapters, ranging from 1977 to 1997, we get a picture of Larry’s life, his emotions and how he has evolved with his society. Larry having been married twice, with women of a different age, means that we can observe the evolution of gender relationships. This theme actually occupies an important place in the final chapter, when the party of the title takes place and the guests are found discussing the position of men and women in society:
‘Being a man at this moment of history means -’ . . . ‘Well, we’re certainly no longer providers and guardians. That went years ago.’ . . . ‘And hunting and fishing? – forget it. Women sneer when men talk about hunting and fishing.’ . . . ‘A man these days is no more than an infrastructure for a penis and a set of testicles.’ ‘That’s not true! Tell me it’s not true.’ ‘That’s all that’s required of us. Our bodies are just walking, talking envelopes designed to contain our paltry store of genetic tissue.’ . . . ‘Being a man in 1997 means walking on eggshells. I don’t dare tell a woman that she looks nice anymore. That I like the color of her dress or the way she’s changed her hair. They’d have me up for sexual harassment.’ . . . ‘My point is that we – both men and women – ought to cherish this period of confusion. Our present period of discomfiture – well, it’s a great and ecstatic gift. We’ve had 5000 centuries of perfect phallic clarity. Everyone knew the script. Men buttoned themselves into their power costumes -’ ‘But at least we all knew who we were and what was allowed.’
Overall, I enjoyed this read and would definitely recommend the book. Carol Shields writes with elegance and simplicity about the ordinary; yet, her writing is powerful and raises contemporary issues.
The reason why I picked up this book is that it was recommended to me by a person who is planning to adapt the final chapter, the party, as a play. I think it is going to work really well. I can’t wait!
P.S.: I have just joined the 4th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mulford at The Book Mine Set and this is my first review for the challenge. You can follow my progress on the “Book Challenges” page I have created for the occasion.