A Fraction of the Whole
Steve Toltz

Spiegel & Grau
Hardcover/544 pages
ISBN: 0-385-52172-3
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". . . an appealing and humorous view of life."

Australian Steve Toltz’s hefty first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, reminds me of a David Lynch movie with terrorizing twists and turns and weird and pathetic characters maneuvering through a peculiar existence. This masterfully written book, laced with black humor and off-the-wall philosophy, is about the intricate life of an Australian father, Marty, and his son, Jasper. Each hates the other’s existence.

Jasper begins his story while incarcerated in the South Wales prison his grandfather helped build and where his famous, murderous Uncle Terry perished by fire in his cell. This fictional memoir takes the reader on a “hideous odyssey” across three continents, peculiar love affairs, murders, suicides, insanity and a disgraceful fall from riches and prominence that forces an escape to Thailand to avoid arrest.

At the age of eight, Marty woke from a four-year coma to meet his new brother Terry who grew up to become a vigilante set on murdering with great passion anyone involved in sports corruption. Jasper is enthralled with his uncle’s legend, but Marty is plagued by his brother’s notoriety. As a result, Terry’s past influences their future in the modern world.

At one point, Harry West, a fugitive and Terry’s mentor, convinces Marty to ghostwrite a handbook of crime with practical advice to criminals. Because the public believes fugitive Terry was the actual author, the media and the police hound Marty.

Marty is the genius, a philosopher with crazy ideas. While in an insane asylum, Marty decides to build a house and hide it in a labyrinth. During this period, Marty runs a brothel, Jasper falls in love with a woman who saves her tears in a glass jar she keeps under her bed, and Marty comes up with a dramatic idea: Make every Australian a millionaire by having every Australian mail $l.00 each week to a certain address. The scheme fails when Marty’s Thai friend and business partner, Eddie, manipulates the first winners. The public outrage and promise of a pending arrest prompts Marty and Jasper to escape with Eddie to Thailand. There we discover Eddie’s true identity, what ultimately happened to Terry, and find out about Jasper’s mother’s suicide. All the pieces then fall into place.

Toltz, whose career includes stints as a cameraman, telemarketer, security guard, private investigator and English teacher, constructs an appealing and humorous view of life. For instance, he mocks people for always making appointments on the half hour and hour instead of three minutes past. He claims Hitler achieves his ambition because he had a “knack for marketing.” This is an appealing book for those of us who appreciate the combination of dark humor and irreverence with a creative and bizarre plot, woven together nicely by a superb storyteller.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla