jordan's Reviews > A Fraction of the Whole

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
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Aug 29, 2008

it was amazing

Wow, the New York Times reviewer couldn't have gotten this one mroe wrong.

One comes up a bit short trying to describe "A Fraction of the Whole." True, the book deals with the relationship of an eccentric father and son, but it is about that only in the way the "Confederacy of Dunces" is about a large rather odd man living in New Orleans. Indeed, it is Toole's classic "Dunces" which most often comes to mind when reading Toltz's "Whole," both highly original works in which odd protagonists offer meditations on the absurd inanity of modern life.

Toltz actually offers two protagonists. The first is Martin Dean. an out of work "philosopher" whose strange outlook is informed by many factors, including his relationship with his brother Terry - a criminal and Australian cult hero - and the large fraction of his youth spent in a coma. The second is Martin's son Jasper, who is just about as odd as his father. The narrative moves back and forth between their perspectives, a literary device currently in great fashion, but one often poorly used. Toltz, however, demonstrates his chops as a writer not only using it seamlessly, but to good effect.

As with "Dunces," attempting to explain the arc of this novel's narrative will not only fail to communicate what makes the work delightful, but will also risk ruining the readers fun, for it is at least as much the journey itself as where it goes that makes it a fun read. Some may likewise be put off by the works length - you know who you are - but such "shaggy dog" like meditations have their place and fans. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that, in my humble opinion, this book is also frequently laugh out loud funny, a rarity in which I delight.

None of which is to say that Toltz's novel is perfect. As an introductory page from the publisher explains, when the book arrived on their desks they realized it might well be genius but was over 800 pages. Now reduced to 500, there are still a few passages and scenes which might have been trimmed without damaging the whole. Perfection, however, is overrated, and while I don't think this book is for everyone, some sizable fraction will not only enjoy it, but will hunger to see what Mr. Toltz produces next.
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message 1: by Lolly K Dandeneau (last edited Aug 20, 2009 12:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lolly K Dandeneau I am the only person probably on planet earth that didn't like a "Confederacy of Dunces" (yeah yeah burn me at the stake) so reading about that book in comparison to Toltz's makes my eyes hurt :) But as far as the New York Times reviewer, you have to wonder, did they read the book? I think I could read anything he wrote, even if it was 800 pages or more. I was truly left with withdrawal symptoms for a few months after reading "A Fraction of the Whole" because I could not find another book that brought so many emotions alive, humor being most important! Great review by the way.

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