Beyond the Book: Background information when reading A Fraction of the Whole

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A Fraction of the Whole

by Steve Toltz

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2008, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Steve Toltz the man is as laconic as his character Martin Dean is loquacious. The author bio on the book jacket simply reads: "Steve Toltz resides in Sydney, Australia. A Fraction of the Whole is his first novel." This paucity of information is quite rare for a debut novelist in our personality-obsessed consumer culture.

Digging a little deeper, I found this extended bio on the publisher's website: "Steve Toltz was born in Sydney and has lived in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Barcelona, and Paris, working as a cameraman, telemarketer, security guard, private investigator, English teacher, and screenwriter. A Fraction of the Whole is his first novel."

Still not very illuminating, though, so it was time to investigate the private investigator. After some clever sleuthing—okay, some Googling, but I had to click through quite a few pages of search results to get anything juicy—I found Toltz reminiscing about his time in New York, about "the café where I'd worked for two dollars an hour and where I'd once tried to clean a junkie's blood off the toilet seat with a broom" or "the place where I lived with a songwriter who charged me extra for using his toaster."

These evocative details only left me wanting more intel on Toltz's life, on what led him to write such a kaleidoscopic novel. So back I went to Google, only to find this gnomic interview. When asked how the novel relates to his own life, he replied, "People always say write what you know, but I've always found that to be terrible advice. It's quite limiting, what you know." When asked if he is as sourly pessimistic as his characters, he answered, "I guess that depends upon what day you ask, and whether it's the morning or afternoon. Or whether I'm feeling pessimistic or optimistic in that moment, and in which way. It's impossible; it's a shifting thing ... my characters' views are an exaggeration of what I'm thinking, and sometimes what I'm not thinking. Often they're views in which I believe, and while believing it, I also believe that the opposite is equally true. So I can't really pin it down."

A fraction of the whole, indeed.

This article was originally published in March 2008, and has been updated for the October 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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