An excellent, absorbing, dense and quirky read,
This review is from: A Fraction of the Whole (Hardcover)
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Steve Toltz has written a debut novel which he may not be able to match in the future. Writing with an independent voice, he hits the reader with a passion for his (ugly) family reminiscent of Dave Eggers' debut novel 'A Heartbreaking Work...'
Written from the point of view of one Jasper Dean, and opening in a prison in which Jasper is incarcerated, the novel instantly intrigues. For the first third of the book, however, the point-of-view switches to Jasper's father, or rather Jasper retelling the tales of his father's early life as best as he can remember them being told to him. Later in the book, we get an excerpt of his father's unfinished autobiography, offering an alternative take on the preceding few chapters. These devices are not as tricksy as they may sound, and make perfect sense in the course of the book.
This novel is about cause and effect. Jasper's father has a troubled early life, which impacts on his younger brother, Terry. Terry hogs the limelight, so Jasper's father reacts to this and attempts to make an impact on his local society. The results of his machinations lead Terry to a life of crime and celebrity, to which his brother responds poorly. As we reach the story of Jasper's life, we find a young man battling against everything his father believes in so as not to end up like his father. The irony, of course, is the more Jasper attempts to differentiate himself from his father, the alike they both become.
The plot may sound trite, but rest assured there is no convenient happy-ever-after ending to this engaging, jubilant, passionate and sordid tale. Indeed, apart from one mis-step in the final third of the book, Toltz makes the unlikely events which take place believable, and never resorts to allowing his characters to forget their deeply ingrained mutual mistrust and dislike, no matter how close to one another they get.
His prose is dense yet readable, full of detail. Indeed, some pages, especially those narrated by Jasper's dad, reach levels I have not seen since the final pages of Henry Miller's Nexus/Plexus/Sexus 'Rosy Crucifixion' trilogy.