Excerpt from Quicksand by Steve Toltz, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Quicksand

by Steve Toltz

Quicksand by Steve Toltz X
Quicksand by Steve Toltz
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2016, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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Print Excerpt

Two Friends, Two Agendas (one hidden)

DOWN AT THE FOAMY SHORELINE, where small tight waves explode against black rocks, a lifeguard with feet wedged in the wet and vaguely tangerine sand stands shirtless like a magnificent sea-Jesus. An ill-timed journey into a breaker knocks a boy on his little back. A bald man throws a tennis ball for his Labrador and a second, unrelated dog bounds in after it. Through a gauze of mist a brunette—tall, and from where we're sitting seemingly riddled with breasts—kicks water on the sunlit torso of her blond companion.

There are three other drinkers in the place, already tethered to the sunbleached bar. It is eleven a.m. Slumped in his cumbersome mechanized wheelchair that squeaks somewhere down by the left back wheel when he's doing pressure lifts, Aldo squints out from sand-whipped windows into the tumor of searing light. He turns to me and says, "I'm nobody's muse."

I think: That's a great line right there. I take out my notebook and when he shoots me an outraged look I say, "That's right, motherfucker. I'm writing it down."

Aldo wipes the condensation off his beer glass and uses it to moisten his lips.

"I know you're tired of being fodder, but for me to finish this book," I confess, "I need at the most your blessing and at the least unrestricted access to your innermost thoughts and feelings—you know, fantasies secreted inside secret fantasies I already know about, that kind of thing."

"Jesus, Liam. You even take mocking yourself too seriously."

"I am serious."

We sort of leer mildly at each other in the mirrored bar.

"This book," I say, "will help you laugh at yourself again."

"I still laugh at myself."

"Not in proportion to how hilarious you are. Come on, Aldo. Where'd your sense of humor go?"

I know where it went, but on only his second morning out of prison I want to see if he will dare articulate it.

He doesn't—only dams a sudden gush of saliva with his sleeve—and when his face reddens in embarrassment I go rigid myself.

"You know," I murmur, "you could sue the state. Failing their duty of care."

He turns to me abruptly and pretends to startle—our old gag—and explains how justice is either impersonal and indifferent or extremely personal and shamelessly vindictive, and how finding yourself in front of our volatile jury system means submitting your fate to a bunch of people whose omelets you wouldn't dream of eating for fear they hadn't washed their hands.

Aldo sets his mouth tight as I scribble that line, and add: he says, with the eyes of a croupier doing back-to-back shifts. Down the bar, a man with a long ponytail who looks sunk in his own epic tale of woe gapes at us unapologetically.

Aldo says, "Have you ever had a woman say to you, Oh, you sad little man?"

"Not in those exact words."

He rotates his chair 180 degrees and shouts, "I recommend it to all women as a way to totally annihilate a person!"

The bartender says, "Can you two keep it down?"

I ask, "Who called you a sad little man?"

Aldo is chewing something, maybe a part of his own mouth. I ask, "Was it Mimi? Was it Stella? Was it Saffron?" He shakes his head. I ask, "Was it your physiotherapist? Was it your lawyer? Please tell me it wasn't that ear-candling woman."

Aldo's face is that of a child woken by lightning. He says, "Why should I let you write about me?"

"Because you'll inspire people. To count their blessings."

His smile, when it arrives, is already vanishing. "Hang on," he says, without inflection, and I know what's coming before it's uttered. "I've just had an idea—to take to market."

"Oh?"

I settle in and listen to the patter of seagulls' webbed feet on the skylight. Two patrons loud-slurp and emit full-bodied beer-ad "ahhhhs." Halfway out Aldo's mouth, soft bubbling sounds that don't mean anything. "The look on your face," he says, "reminds me of that waiting period between the guilty verdict and the sentencing."

Excerpted from Quicksand by Steve Toltz. Copyright © 2015 by Steve Toltz. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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