quicksand

Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Oh dear God, this novel takes a particularly brutal turn about 80% in. 

Some people may not make it 80% in. 

I fell in love with Toltz's writing when my sister recommended A Fraction of the Whole the year it was released. I was through Fraction that I came to know the Man Booker Prize. I love reading (you know, in case you didn't happen to notice this about me before) and I have my favourites - I'm often especially snared by unique or particularly eloquent writing - but I very rarely remember lines, quotes, passages from even my favourite novels. Distinct and beloved lines from Fraction, however, seared into my memory years ago and I still seize upon any chance to quote them to anyone unfortunate enough (or rather fortunate in my opinion) to be my target. 

So when Simon and Schuster gave me the opportunity to early read Toltz's first published novel in seven years I was very excited. With Fraction, I appreciated the writing and while the plot was somewhat loosely structured, it was knit together with enough cohesiveness that I didn't much notice, either way. With Quicksand, however, it was definitely the writing that had to carry me through. 

There's a very loosely structured plot, here, and if plot is your primary motivation as a reader, you may have difficulty with Toltz's novels. It often seems random, confusing, maybe even poorly edited? Though perhaps it's all quite intentional, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. 

But the writing is still the very strange, highly entertaining, original and sly work that I adore, so I willingly burrowed my way through 449 pages of often frustrating plot to relish in the words.

"Behind us a couple dragged luggage on broken wheels to the reception desk, and I was saying something like I'm a fast learner or maybe that I was a team player, in any case one of those phrases that make you feel as if you've let someone urinate on you for a dollar."

"Each day you wake up alive, you are the victor; go claim your spoils."

"One begins to believe a man with children who gets on a motorbike is not a loving father."

"I say, Listen. Hear that silence? That's the sound of my forebearers wondering why they bothered."

"He was a generous guy, but really lazy. He would give you the shirt off his back, then ask you to wash it."

"The best artists are disillusioned by eight thirty in the morning; the only perfection possible is to never begin; without context, a high-priced and much-feted conceptual masterpiece turns back into the embalmed shark or garbage pail that it is; artistic genius is often linked with insanity only because free time is the key factor in exacerbating mental illness; most artists are easily offended, save empathy for their work, but parcel it out sparingly in their lives; they cultivate animosity toward their audience and vehement contempt for their patrons."

"What happened next comes to Aldo as in an unpleasant dream - it comes with medical smells and desert winds and hairy faces floating out of darkness, and I will try to tell it like he lives it now, as a memory that wait in the street, engine idling, for whenever Aldo hates himself enough to take it for a spin."

"The most dominant aspect of this memory, however, was how strangely at ease I felt alone with Mr. Morrell that afternoon, so devoid of my usual acute paranoia of authority figures that I didn't once hallucinate the sound of a zipper when my back was turned."

"If it pleases the court, I will now recount a sexual experience so shocking it turned my pubic hair white overnight."  

That last line there is, indeed (eventually) followed by a excruciatingly horrific scene, one which I which I could retract in my brain. Just because there is so much humor -  snarling, black humor -in Toltz's work, don't turn your back on the potential that it can into just simple blackness. 

Toltz likes to go on and on for very long paragraphs of ongoing sentences and diversions into tangents so far out there that once they end, you have to shake yourself into remembering where they diverged to get yourself back into the story. If the writing examples I provided above make you laugh and in awe at his cleverness, you'll like his work. If they drive you crazy (and you can't imagine reading lines like that that go on for more than a page of (technically) one sentence, well, then, you may not). He's definitely an acquired taste (and definitely one of my own). If you're interested, make sure to click on the photograph of Toltz above; it links to an interview that illustrates just how much authors sometime impart their own experiences in their work.