Let me say first, I have A Fraction of a Whole, I’ve had it for years, but I haven’t read it. Yet. I will, because now I know how Steve Toltz writes, I will be eating up all his words.
Book number 35 for the year was Quicksand, ah what to say about it. It’s in the maximalist tradition of David Foster Wallace (but more restrained). It was as if Toltz sat down and thought ‘I want to write a whole man’s life. How do I do it?’ and I think he was successful, there’s so much crammed in to this book. Things I loved about it: the energy, the characters, especially the protagonist at the centre, Aldo Benjamin, a man whose life could be held up by his friend Liam as an example to others of what not to do.
‘Why should I let you write about me?’ Aldo asks Liam, when Liam takes notes when they are together, explaining he’s going to write a book about him.
‘Because you’ll inspire people. To count their blessings.’
And this is the crux of the book. Here we have an anti-hero. A man who fucks up at every turn, who fails at everything, yet has a coterie of people who turn up and bail him out. One of the funniest scenes in the book is when Liam realises he’s not the only ‘best friend’ that Aldo relies on to come running.
I did tire a little, though, with the lengthiness of the novel (and I am a reader who loves a long book). At times it felt like the passages were a compendium of lists, as if a burst of words on the page is enough to impress. It’s not enough for me but I really enjoyed most of it.
[2016 insert: Here’s a great review from Sue at Whispering Gums. She loved Quicksand.]
I’m having a rest before getting on to Fraction. Read Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding over the last two days (book number 36). What a brilliant book. It was recommended by Kirsty Gunn in her talk at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago, talking about how well McCullers did the child’s point of view. And my copy has an intro by Ali Smith, she of the fabulous How to be Both. It’s an instructive essay and I read it after reading the novella.
Great stuff. I recommend both. (By the way. Book 31: In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones, a pretty impressive debut. The woman is 25. Far out. Book 32: Relativity by Antonia Hayes. Another local debut. Book 33: Bossypants, Tina Fey. Better than the Poehler (only cause I thought Amy’s book had too much filler) but still, not as awesome as I expected. What was I expecting? I don’t know. It was ok. And book 34 for the year: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop. Again, really skilfully written, understated and original, which I liked. And a female protagonist who will inflame many a book club I reckon. Impressive.)
Am reading John Irving’s Owen Meany now. Do you realise I’ve never read it before? Again, had it for years. Even have an inscription in the front from myself to myself, with the date, sometime in 1989, and saying ‘three years I have waited for this’ and yet, I obviously didn’t read it. For whatever reason. The wall was coming down? I went to Lake Eyre? Ah, that’s probably it. And then, I was getting ready to go overseas, in April the next year, and then shortly after that, four days precisely after leaving Melbourne, my life took a turn and I spun off in a completely unexpected direction, a segue that involved marriage, spinning a life between Australia, Japan, Turkey. So maybe it was a case of ‘reading interrupted’. I think so.
Oh, and these author pics. I’m so curious about them now, and study them as if they are beetles with pins in them.
I think he’s doing ‘chin work’ in the bottom photo. Check this for explanation: it’s all about the jaw
oh, and there’s the squinch too
9 thoughts on “QUICKSAND Steve Toltz”
So this is odd – I have had both A Fraction of a Whole AND The Member of the Wedding sitting on my shelf since the year dot as well. Not sure why I haven’t read them… I really wish I had the willpower to do a year of only reading my TBR stack.
In the Quiet, Relativity and The Other Side of the World are all waiting for me as well.. when will I ever READ ALL THE BOOKS?!
Owen Meany… I’m jealous that you’re reading it for the first time.
I’ve decided, Kate, I’m not going to just automatically buy new-release, local fiction, ‘without cause’. (But I think I am going to go and by Mireille Jucheau’s The World Without Us TODAY, argh.) But I’m going to really try and read books that I really want to. Fill in my Irving gaps. Read more Dickens. Infinite Jest and The Pale King. Ulysses. War and Peace. Proust. I’ve also culled my bookshelves – not by much – but gave a bunch of contemporary books to a reader friend. And like you I have so many to read but I want to stop adding to that pile so rapidly. Enough already.
And then there’s all the Wolf Hall books. And the upcoming Franzen. Anne Enright’s new one. God I could go on and on.
I’m getting close to a year of only reading what I’ve already got. I reckon it would reduce the stack by a third. It’s about room in my house as much as anything else… The crime is that some of the books in my TBR stack I pre-ordered – I was so desperate for them and yet now they’re gathering dust. I would also like to do some re-reads. And, like you, fill in some gaps. I haven’t read War and Peace plus there are a bunch of classics that I read decades ago but would like to revisit eg. I haven’t read any Austen in years.
I like Franzen well-enough but not such a fan that I’ll be queuing at the bookshop the day his new book is released. The new Enright was brilliant.
I tried to do that this year. Only read what I have. I couldn’t go more than three weeks I don’t think… But the more I am disappointed in reading, or rather not exhilarated or nourished, the more likely I am to be more selective. Just part of my own way of moving forward I think. Excuse the wankiness.
I didn’t remember that you’d reviewed this Jenny because I don’t read reviews of books I haven’t read. I try to remember and come back later. I agree a bit about the length and the multiple lists. (Did you know there’s a literary device called ASYNDETON which describes, I think, that list technique?) Most members in my reading group didn’t like it – and I think the excessive lists were part of it, though I think some just didn’t like Aldo. He may overuse the list technique a little – but what he says is so funny or pointed that I forgave him.
It’s not really a review and not worth returning to. Mine are just responses but as you can read in my ‘not review’ Aldo was one of the strengths of the book for me, I just loved him. How interesting that we both picked that same quote about Aldo and how not to live or something. So wry. I will get to A Fraction of a Whole for sure one day.
Yes, I liked him too … and that line was too good not to share wasn’t it.