Summary and book reviews of Quicksand by Steve Toltz


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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Book Summary

A daring, brilliant new novel from Man Booker Prize finalist Steve Toltz, for fans of Dave Eggers, Martin Amis, and David Foster Wallace: a fearlessly funny, outrageously inventive dark comedy about two lifelong friends.

Liam is a struggling writer and a failing cop. Aldo, his best friend and muse, is a haplessly criminal entrepreneur with an uncanny knack for disaster. As Aldo's luck worsens, Liam is inspired to base his next book on his best friend's exponential misfortunes and hopeless quest to win back his one great love: his ex-wife, Stella. What begins as an attempt to make sense of Aldo's mishaps spirals into a profound story of faith and friendship.

With the same originality and buoyancy that catapulted his first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, onto prize lists around the world - including shortlists for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award - Steve Toltz has created a rousing, hysterically funny but unapologetically dark satire about fate, faith, friendship, and the artist's obligation to his muse. Sharp, witty, kinetic, and utterly engrossing, Quicksand is a subversive portrait of twenty-first-century society in all its hypocrisy and absurdity.

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 ...

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BookBrowse Review


The novel has a timeline that is sometimes difficult to follow because it jumps back and forth in time, as well as switches between Aldo and Liam’s points of view. It also changes formats from straight narration, to a transcription of a police interview, to a manuscript of Liam’s book, to a defense monologue from a court trial. All of these are dappled with Aldo's distracting and sometimes endless - though thoroughly entertaining and character developing - rants. But the comedic way Toltz navigates some pretty serious subjects (rape, murder, death, prostitution, and suicide to name a few), carries the reader through the unsteady timeline. To be clear, Toltz isn’t making light of these subjects. But his humor does allow for some kind of literary slapstick, which lightens the read.   (Reviewed by Darcie R.J. Abbene).

Full Review (725 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Earnestly seriocomic, with the "serio" part arriving too late and the "comic" part too intermittently.

Publishers Weekly

By turns hilarious and hopeless, Toltz's novel is a tender portrait of a charming and talented loser.


Starred Review. Even a random perusal of a few pages . . . makes it clear why so many are singing the author's praises for originality and prodigious ability to turn a clever phrase.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Toltz's talent is obvious from the first page, which, added to his signature mixture of humor, fearlessness, and barbed social commentary, makes one appreciate the comparisons he's received to writers such as Jonathan Franzen, Gary Shteyngart, and John Irving. Highly recommended; an important young writer to watch.

Scotland on Sunday (UK)

It is very rare for me to laugh on almost every page of a book; it is even rarer for that to be accompanied by exquisite melancholy. Toltz is writing like very few other authors; he seems like an Antipodean Thomas Bernhard in his unsparing, agonizing comedies. I hope it is not seven years before his next novel.

Mail on Sunday (UK)

Highly original,entertaining and almost impossible to summarize, this is a high-octane,adrenaline-fuelled, frenetic tour de force of sustained brilliance. There is wit, laugh-out-loud humour and linguistic fireworks and dexterity on almost every page..."

The Guardian (UK)

Brilliantly dark...The entire novel is buzzing with the power of human connection – the jokes, accommodations and shared mythologies of love and friendship. Even in a book overflowing with solipsists and monomaniacs, would-be artists and theories about art, it remains a creative force to be reckoned with.

The Literary Review (UK)

Darkly comic and increasingly cosmic...It takes a very good writer to pull off this style, but Toltz is supremely capable...A scream of triumph.

The Sunday Times Summer Reading Choices (UK)

Aldo Benjamin, the novel's hero, is a modern-day Job who endures terrible things: beatings, catastrophic injuries, prison rape, multiple bankruptcies. Trust me, it's very funny… every page has zingers that you'll want to read to other people. Steve Toltz is touched by comic genius

The Saturday Paper (Australia)

[Like] Philip Roth at his angriest and funniest…Quicksand is a similarly high-octane read; it recalls and updates the tradition of Jewish-American fiction in the same spirit as Gary Shteyngart or Jonathan Safran Foer.

Author Blurb Dinaw Mengestu, award-winning author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and All Our Names
Steve Toltz writes with a singular, propulsive energy, with sentences and characters that rise off the page with a force that leaves you almost breathless. There is more heart, and joy and compassion and hard-earned wisdom in Quicksand than seems possible for a single novel; it is life, literature at its fullest.

Author Blurb Stefan Merrill Block, bestselling author of The Story of Forgetting and The Storm at the Door
What would happen if some genius were able to unite the high-wattage storytelling exuberance of Kurt Vonnegut, the combustive glee of Walt Whitman, and the reality-smashing despair of Franz Kafka? Impossibly, Steve Toltz has done just that, turning out a new masterpiece that is at once an old-fashioned page-turner, a tragicomic lament for the digital age, and an aching howl at the intractable existential dilemmas of our poor species.

Author Blurb Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
There are more lines of genius on one page of Quicksand than in the entirety of many very respectable novels.

Author Blurb Peter Carey, Booker Prize-winning author of Amnesia
The energy, the hairpin turns, the narrative crashes, the stomach churning ascents and trashed taboos: what a joy to surrender oneself to a writer of such prodigious talent.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book


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 ...

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