BOOKS: STRONG ROOTS

A GARDENER'S WELL-TENDED LIFE, WITH WEEDS AND ALL

In her first novel since the Pulitzer-prizewinning The Stone Diaries (1995), Carol Shields takes on the burden of eliciting interest in a rather unprepossessing hero. Larry's Party (Viking; 339 pages; $23.95) offers 15 chapters, each of which has the stand-alone feel of a short story, excerpting details from the imagined life of one Larry Weller.

There he is at 26, in 1977, a floral designer in Winnipeg, Canada, living with his parents and happy in his job. Then he marries Dorrie and buys a house. They have a son they name Ryan, but their marriage breaks up after five years. Unexpectedly,...

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