Quicksand: Background information when reading Quicksand

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by Steve Toltz

Quicksand by Steve Toltz X
Quicksand by Steve Toltz
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 368 pages
    Apr 2016, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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This article relates to Quicksand

Print Review

QuicksandThough there is no literal quicksand in Steve Toltz's novel, his main character, Aldo Benjamin, is consistently trapped in a metaphorical quicksand. He struggles through many varieties of bad luck, but that classic epitome of bad luck - getting stuck in quicksand - might not spell the certain death that some think.

According to Scientific American, a mass of sand particles is typically 25-30% air or water. The types of sand particles that make up quicksand, however, are a little different; they are more elongated in their shape, and don't fit together as neatly. Thus, up to 70% of quicksand is filled with air or water. Quicksand becomes dangerous when a vibration or stress causes the elongated grains to collapse against each other which, in turn, creates a drawing down or sinking motion.

These areas of loosely packed sand particles are created by an upward movement of water which is typically found near oceans and natural springs, and along riverbanks. So, despite what movies might lead you to believe, it's pretty hard to fall into them accidentally, and they are rarely found in the desert.

A study recounted in National Geographic puts to rest all the fears of fully disappearing in a pit of quicksand. The study reveals that, in fact, it is unlikely you could drown. The reason you can't actually sink all the way down? Density. Researchers discovered that because quicksand's density of 2 grams per milliliter is higher than humans' 1 gram per milliliter, the tricky sand cannot draw the human body in the whole way.

But make no mistake - it can still trap you. And that has to do with the viscosity, or thickness, of the sand. As you struggle in quicksand, the sand liquefies which actually increases its gooeyness because of the disposition of the the sand sediment. Daniel Bonn, author of the quicksand study recounted in National Geographic, advises to "wiggle your legs around. This creates a space between the legs and the quicksand through which water can flow down to loosen the sand." But you have to do it gradually.

The fact that you can be trapped in quicksand without being sucked down to your doom makes the title of Steve Toltz's novel even more appropriate for Aldo Benjamin, who endlessly struggles in situations that trap him but don't quite do him in. Although there are circumstances in which people die in quicksand - due to incoming tides or overexposure to harsh elements - most fears of death by quicksand can now be assuaged.

Quicksand, courtesy of Solipsist~commonswiki

Filed under Nature and the Environment

This "beyond the book article" relates to Quicksand. It originally ran in October 2015 and has been updated for the April 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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