Larry LaSalle

An illustration of LaSalle, with Nicole and Francis.
  • Larry LaSalle is a complex character. He was born in Frenchtown, and lived there until he was at least ten years old, when his family moved away. He is physically striking as shown by Francis’ description of Larry’s first appearance in front of the children; A tall slim man stepped into view, a lock of blond hair tumbling over his forehead, a smile that revealed dazzling movie-star teeth. He also has an attractive personality and seems to be good at everything he does, whether that is dancing or sporting activities; But he was most of all a teacher, leading classes in dancing, arts and crafts, organizing a choral group, directing musical shows. He is constantly encouraging the children, telling them, You are all stars.
  • Cormier leaves a trail of little signs about Larry not being all he seems. For example, he seems to have super-human powers – when Joey LeBlanc whispers to Francis about Larry’s name sounding unreal, Larry hears what he says and replies, That’s right – it’s real. It is likely that he guesses what Joey is saying as he has been in this situation before. When he tap-dances, it is with machine-gun speed. This foreshadows his activities during the war, but also highlights a dangerous aspect to him, because a machine-gun is a lethal killing machine. In addition, there are dark hints that he had ‘gotten into trouble’ in New York City, but nobody dares to ask about these. Francis tells the reader that nobody really knew anything about Larry and that he discouraged questions.
  • When he returns from war on leave, Francis notes that Larry has changed; His slenderness was knife-like now, lethal, his features sharper, nose and cheek-bones. In fact, Francis admits that his changed appearance makes it easy to imagine him storming a hillside... rifle in hand, bayonet fixed, grenades dangling from his belt, pumping bullets into the enemy. Larry has become a ruthless killing machine, and it is no coincidence that his assault of Nicole takes place on the very same day that he arrives home from the war. It is as though nothing can stop him from causing harm.
  • Larry does have positive qualities. He really does transform the lives of the young people of Frenchtown, even the apparently hopeless cases. These are Butch Bartoneau, the notorious schoolyard bully, whom Francis says was tamed by Larry. He also trained a very shy girl, Edna Beauchene, to do a comedy act in the Wreck Centre’s first musical production – under Larry LaSalle’s guidance… [Edna] became the hit of the show. He teaches Francis to play table tennis, telling him that it is a sport known around the world. He promises Francis that it is a sport which Francis is going to dominate with [his] quickness and [his] reflexes. In this way he flatters Francis, but also builds his confidence. When Francis is winning a match in front of the other young people, he notes that Nobody had ever cheered me before.
  • When Larry rapes Nicole it is a dreadful shock for Francis as well as Nicole. Through Francis’ narration, the reader feels their sense of hurt and betrayal, but is not really surprised because there have been a lot of hints that this was likely to happen. Francis earlier on describes Larry and Nicole dancing – Larry LaSalle tossed her in the air, letting her fly, defying gravity for a breathless moment, then caught her, pressing her close, their faces almost touching, their lips only an inch or so from a kiss, before he allowed her to slip down against his body. The reader sees this through Francis’ eyes but it should be remembered that Nicole is a 14-year-old girl and Larry is a grown man. In fact, Larry’s behaviour is known as grooming, when an adult subtly prepares a child for an inappropriate relationship.
  • Larry is one of the first men in Frenchtown to enlist in the forces and fight in the war. He becomes a Marine and fights in the Pacific; he is decorated for bravery during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Mayor of Frenchtown, Harold Burnham, presents Larry with a silver key to the city and tells him, You are our celebration... Your presence in this great city of ours, Lieutenant Lawrence LaSalle, is cause enough for jubilation. A huge crowd watches this take place and sees Larry’s response, which is to say a quiet Thank you, as he stands modestly before the crowd. The fact that Larry waits for silence to fall so that everyone can hear his reply illustrates how he manipulates the situation – he appears to be humble and modest but it is a careful act. It is deeply ironic when Larry tells the crowd that we have to keep the world safe for these young people – they are our future... as it is that same night that he violates Nicole, the very opposite of keeping the world safe for her.
curriculum-key-fact
The Battle of Guadalcanal was a military campaign fought between August 1942 and February 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal. It was fought between the Americans and the Japanese.
  • Larry uses the power which he knows he has over Francis when he tells him to leave the Wreck Centre that night. He is so arrogant that he cannot entertain the idea that Francis might disobey him and stay in the building. He has absolutely no remorse for what he has done and he is confident that he will not be caught.
  • Larry is still manipulative when Francis visits him at the end of the novel. He already knows that Francis was injured in the war – Don’t be afraid to show your face, Francis. That face, what’s left of it, is a symbol of how brave you were, the Silver Star you earned... He is telling Francis what to think and feel, just as he always did. Larry seems old and unable to walk, even though he says, No wounds that you can see, Francis. But I’m worn out. Francis thinks to himself, Maybe your sins [are] catching up with you. After the two of them have talked about the past, and Francis has told Larry that he wanted to die because of what Larry did to Nicole, Larry honestly seems surprised, and replies, You wanted to die because of that? It is clear that he has attached no importance to the event, a fact which is supported by the suggestion that Nicole was not his only victim; he talks to Francis about the sweet young things... e=Even their heat is sweet... He adds, Everybody sins, Francis. The terrible thing is that we love our sins. We love the thing that makes us evil. I love the sweet young things.
  • The question which he then asks Francis is extremely important to our understanding of Larry. He asks, Does that one sin of mine wipe away all the good things? We see now that Larry LaSalle admits that he is a paedophile. However, he balances his one sin against all the good things that he has done and manages to justify it. He sees himself as a good man with one small weakness. He has never thought about the harm he has caused or the young lives he has ruined. As Francis leaves him, he hears a gunshot, telling him that Larry has shot himself. Francis, and through him the reader, will never know whether Larry killed himself out of guilt or merely because his life was not worth living any more.

Popular

How is Larry like this?

Larry is an instant hit with the children of Frenchtown.

Evidence

He was our champion and we were happy to be in his presence.

Analysis

The children of Frenchtown have never known anybody like Larry. He is full of energy and somehow manages to get the best out of even the most unpromising children. Of course, it is later obvious that Larry likes being near young people for the wrong reasons.

Manipulative

How is Larry like this?

Larry creates situations which mean that he can take advantage of the children.

Evidence

Time to go home, Francis… You look tired… it’s been a long day.

We always did what Larry LaSalle told us to do. Always carried out his slightest wish. And now I seemed actually to be tired, as Larry suggested.

...and parents who knew that Larry LaSalle had been a bright Pied Piper for their children...

Analysis

Francis has always done exactly what Larry tells him to do and would not dream of disobeying him.

Such is Larry’s power over Francis that he can actually make Francis feel tired by saying he looks it.

Even adults are taken in by Larry’s charm. The reference to the Pied Piper introduces a sinister note. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is a long poem by Robert Browning (1812-1889). He is an unpleasant character who lures children away from their homes and families with music that promises all kinds of wonderful things. This foreshadows the way in which Larry lures innocent young people away from their childhoods.

Arrogant

How is Larry like this?

Larry is sure that he will never be caught.

Evidence

He was at the door, a shadow now, turning the knob, whistling a tune… whistling softly as he stepped through the doorway...

Analysis

Larry’s calm actions as he leaves the Wreck Centre after raping Nicole show that he is confident that she will not report him, or that even if she does, nobody will believe her.

Brave

How is Larry like this?

Larry is a genuine war hero and his brave actions saved other men’s lives.

Evidence

He saved the lives of an entire platoon... Captured an enemy machine-gun nest. It was on the radio...

He was unshaven, face gaunt and drawn, eyes sunk deep into their sockets. But it was our Larry LaSalle, all right.

A New England Marine is one of the great heroes of Pacific action, receiving the Silver Star...

Analysis

This action, for which Larry is rewarded with a bravery medal, is proof of his bravery. He acted without thinking of his own safety and as a result a large number of soldiers survived. This is one of the good things which Larry considers gives him the right to behave as he does with young girls. It makes the readers think hard about the nature of heroism – can Larry be a true hero when we know what else he is capable of?

Analysing the evidence

We stare at each other for a long moment.Please,he says, and his voice is like the small cry of a child. I lower the gun. I remove my finger from the trigger. My hand trembles. I put the gun back in my pocket.Go, Francis. Leave me here. Leave everything here, the war, what happened at the Wreck Centre, leave it all behind, with me.

Question

What does this extract tell us about Larry’s situation at the end of the novel?

In this extract Larry has lost all his power. He is a sad old man, unable to leave his armchair. He is reduced to pleading with Francis, and the words small child are a reminder of what he has been guilty of in his lifetime.

Even so, Francis finds himself doing what Larry tells him to do. Larry puts himself in the position of a scapegoat, willing to take on other people’s sins. This has the effect of making him sound like a good man, but the words what happened at the Wreck Centre quickly remind us that he is not a good person. He is simply playing a power game with Francis.