Joe Bloggs holds an enduring fascination for acclaimed Canadian writer CAROL SHIELDS, as her new novel Larry’s Party testifies. Words: Ann Donald
Carol Shields has a new mantra which goes like this: ’Thank you God for making me a woman.’
A tad extreme you may think, but not when you consider the award-winning Canadian author has just completed Larry’s Party. The novel, to be launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival, is Shields at her best — the empathetic but probing queen of ordinary life.
We Witness Larry grow up from a vaguely mystified 26-year-old on his way to a hot date, to a disillusioned florist, father and husband at 36 and finally the epiphany at 46, as a twice- divorced maze deSigner and novice party-host. Like many of Shields’s creations ~ including Daisy Goodwill in the Booker shortlisted The Stone Diaries — he represents the ’ordinary’ person. Shields teases out the secrets and inner thoughts of people otherWise consigned to the footnotes of life or history and fashions them into memorable characters.
'l'm not sure I've learnt any more about men from writing the book,’ offers a puzzled sounding Shields who used her husband as her ’primary source'. ’But I have to say I have never been happier to be a woman.’
Larry, you see, falls into the same category as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Fever Pitch heroes — he is a man with communication problems. ’lt's one of the distinguishing aspects of the species,’ says Shields with a tinkly laugh. ’Men have gaps in their communication between each other, their sons, their fathers. I think there are many Larrys living locked in lives'
She continues in anthropologist mode: ’For this book I listened very carefully to the conversations between men and women and I discovered that men just don't ask questions the way women always do in wanting to open up, or in their need to know when making intimate relations. In fact, l can honestly say I have never heard a man say "Tell me how you feel about that?” I think that guys learn to communicate metaphorically through sports and cars.’
Life and its contending frustrations may wrap a fuzzy blanket round Larry’s perception of the world, but he does have his moments of pierCing inSight, as exemplified in the words: 'Sometimes Larry felt that language had not yet evolved to a point where it represented the world fully.’
Is this something Shields believes? ’Yes, I do. I've always thought that feelings slip in between words, they leak away before we can catch them, English may be a pretty large language but it is still inadequate at times. Even French is not that much better with its selection of nuances. I hear the Eastern languages are better . . .'
It is to Shields' credit that she belongs
to an elite breed of writers who excel at precisely that — pinning down the 'leaks’ and ’abstract’ emotions that envelop us throughout life,
Carol Shields (Book Festival) Carol Shields with Liz Lochhead, Post Office Theatre, Mon 25 Aug, 11.10am, £4 (£3). Larry’s Party by Carol Shields is published by Fourth Estate at £16.99.
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78 THELIST 22-28 Aug 1997
American cyberculture is a fast evolvmg zone where psychedelic drugs, computers, raves and post- hippy spiritualism meet and explode.
At best, it prowdes new ways of thinking, new methods of communication and a new, positive way of life. At worst, under the paranOid magnifying glass of Californian c0unter-culture, it prowdes fried brains With the means to create and live in a soence fiction hell.
J0urnalist Douglas Rushkoff has chronicled his own Journeys into the upside of cyberculture in three factual books including Children Of Chaos. He pins down its worst fantaSies in his first novel The Ecstasy Club. The book tells of a disenfranchised group of twentysomething Californians who take over a warehouse in their search for better drugs, more hedonism, faster information and entry into a new dimenSion.
’i wanted to tell some deeper, darker truths,’ explains Rushkoff of his move from fact to fiction. 'As a Journalist, you can't write about your suspicions or your critiCisms, unless they are grounded in fact. I thought this would be a good way of showmg what’s wrong and where people are rnisgmded Without getting involved in personal attack.’
Rushkoff's critiCisms of what he calls the 'cyberdelic world View' are, however, qualified. 'There is so much promise in the new ways of looking at things, new technology and new
communications infrastructures,' he says 'I don't want to scare peOple off them or take a fledgling effort by young people and stamp it out before it has had a chance to express itself' Part of cyberculture's problem is that it takes itself far too seriously. Both comedy and love story, The Ecstasy Club prowdes some welcome levity Rushkoff’s final warning on cyberculture 'The more fear and trepidation we have of moving into the new spaces, the more we are at risk of being COntrolled and manipulated' (Thom Dibdin) I Cutting Edge Cyberspace (Book Festival) Doug/as Rushkoff and Melanie McGrath, ESPC Studio Theatre, Fri 22 Aug, 5pm, £3.50 (£2.50).