Sunday, December 13, 2015
Review: "Quicksand" by Steve Toltz
Up until now, I was struggling to find a book by an author I had read before to top of my list of best books of the year, something to define 2015 on one side of my reading coin. I hate to admit it, but none of the books I had read, even the good ones, were something that I could put at the top of the list. I feel relieved and quite happy to be able to found a book like Steve Toltz’s second novel, Quicksand, to put at the top of that list. Last year, on my trip out East, one of the books that I brought with me was Toltz’s debut novel, A Fraction of a Whole, and like this year’s trip to California, it was almost ruined by an amazing book I kept coming back to, to the great annoyance of my companion. It’s scope, feeling like an Australian John Irving novel, and its boundless sense of humor charmed the pants off me. This second novel is no different, and might be a bit better actually. It’s shorten length makes the story tighter, the many crazy turns plausible and easier to follow, but it does not take away from the power of many of the surprises the book springs on us, which will make you laugh quite uncontrollably while shedding a few manly tears, almost always at the same time. It all adds up to an experience that is both exhausting, but one of the most rewarding I’ve experienced all year. The focus of this novel is the hapless Adlo Benjamin, whose story is told through the eyes of his friend Liam, an okay cop and a shitty novelist. Liam tells of Aldo’s many crazy schemes to make money, which include rather esoteric business ventures and even, at one time, a failed zombie movie. He fails at all of these, but he never fails as hard as he does when it comes to his great love, Stella, whose life is constantly in flux with Aldo’s mostly for the worse. The story is structured out of order, focusing on Adlo now, a paraplegic, his early life, which involved a false rape accusation (when he was a virgin, no less) and his trial for a series of horrible crimes, all of which happened due to his own foolishness, or, as he says, his pathological bad luck. This book perfectly balances the darkness with the light moments, and it is bolstered by Toltz’s incredible wit and brave sense of humor. Even as Aldo fanaticizes about his suicide, which he attempts no less than three times during the novel, he never quite gives up on whatever silly dream he is pursuing. This is a very hopeful novel, putting a great amount of emotional stock in optimism and hard work, and the love, and in Aldo’s case, forgiveness, of the people you love. It was a true to joy to exist within the crazy confines of this book, and I can’t wait to read what Toltz concocts next.