Thursday, August 16, 2012

BOOKs: Larry's Late Night Party in October

A few Canadian books with some quick thoughts:

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, 363 pages

Canadian Book Challenge 6; Giller Prize Winner 2007

I found this one a bit disjointed - a WKRP staff (but not comical) at a radio station in Yellowknife in the 1970s. There were a lot of characters and stories overlapping, and I can barely remember any of them. By spreading the focus around, I didn't find any one person to identify with. The first part of the book led up to the final section - a canoe trip by four of the characters through the wild. I liked the canoe trip, but the foreshadowing that had occurred earlier was too heavy handed for what actually happened.

The love of the north and its wild beauty comes through. There was a Northern Commission going on during the book, and I really liked that aspect of it.  I read this for a book club, and even after the discussion, I didn't have any better feel for the book. Sometimes when I read a book that I don't 'get', a discussion with other readers, or even a debate helps me understand the structure or meanings in the book. I was still pretty confused still after our discussion.

October, by Richard B Wright, 241 pages

Giller Prize Longlist

I loved Clara Callen by the same author and had high hopes for October. I'll lump this into my category of 'old men remembering their youth' books. However, at least the main character was remembering a unique time - during the war in Gaspe Quebec. He was able to touch on several aspects of Canadian history - the war, French and English differences, rich and poor in rural Quebec. The main theme however was death - James is called to England to visit his daughter and deal with her terminal cancer. On the way home, he runs into an old friend (from summer in Gaspe) who is on his way to die. James is confronted on all sides with dying, and that's what sets off his remembering the summer of his youth.

Wright did the Canadian history part very well again, as in Clara Callen (1930s Ontario). Regular people leading regular lives, albeit flawed like everyone.  I was less impressed with the characters this time. James was no Clara Callen! However, I have one more book by Wright to help me decide whether I am a huge fan of him, or just Clara Callen. The Age of Longing is waiting.

Larry's Party by Carol Shields, 352 pages

Orange Prize Winner 1998; Giller Prize Shortlist 1997

Carol Shields does such a great job of writing about everyday people. Larry is just an ordinary guy - growing up in Winnipeg, marrying young, growing and changing. He evolves from a florist to a world renowned maze designer. Mazes become the metaphor for life - the different paths and types of mazes, and she writes the same way, ultimately moving forward in Larry's life, but sometimes backtracking. Shields keeps the reader somewhat distanced from her characters, and yet reading the daily events is satisfying. Similar to The Stone Diaries, but I liked this better. Instead of writing from cradle to grave, we only watch Larry for twenty years of his life.
I've only got one Carol Shields' novel left to read, The Republic of Love, along with some short stories and non-fiction.  I read this for 1morechapter's Carol Shields Month and for Orange July.