Carol Shields hit her stride in 1995. with The Stone Diaries, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a woman's difficult passages through childhood, marriage and motherhood, old age and death. Shields sticks to much the same formula here, but this time the protagonist is a man.
When we first meet 26-year-old Larry Weller, he is a floral designer living with his parents in Winnipeg, Man., and dating a woman named Dorrie. Larry is decent but clueless, and he stumbles through the next 20 years in a state of quiet sadness and befuddlement. By 46, despite a thriving career as a master designer of landscape mazes, he has had two failed marriages and has a troubled teenage son and a gathering midlife crisis. "I've felt all my life I was a kind of maze myself," he reflects. "There was something hidden in the middle of me, but no one could find it, it was so deeply concealed."
Eventually, Larry discovers the route to his core, and his circuitous journey is meant to illuminate what it means to be a man. Some readers will find Shields's account of an ordinary life extraordinary; others will find it just plain banal. (Viking, $23.95)