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Originally published Friday, March 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"A Fraction of the Whole" a father and son's mad, mad world

"A Fraction of the Whole," Steve Toltz's startling debut novel, is a nonstop, politically incorrect diatribe about — for and against — religion, politics, relationships, sex, marriage, work, play, children, sleep, friends, art, labyrinths, schemes and dreams.

Special to The Seattle Times

"A Fraction of the Whole"

by Steve Toltz

Spiegel & Grau, 530 pp., $24.95

Hold on tight because you are about to ride a juggernaut of words, where things will go by very quickly and you better pay attention. Martin Dean and his son, Jasper, are together in this picaresque adventure, ranging from Australia to Paris to Thailand. "Together" might be putting too happy a face on it. They really don't like each other much, even though they are the mirror image of one another in most respects. Jasper's origins and upbringing are unconventional at best.

"A Fraction of the Whole," Steve Toltz's startling debut novel, is a nonstop, politically incorrect diatribe about — for and against — religion, politics, relationships, sex, marriage, work, play, children, sleep, friends, art, labyrinths, schemes and dreams.

Jasper, in his 20s and in jail, starts the story by trying to set down his life with his certifiably paranoid father, Martin. While Jasper is a teenager, Martin (who occasionally picks up the narrative) manages a strip club, working for the enigmatic Eddie; enters a mental hospital and finally dupes the doctors into believing that he is sane; develops a scheme which will make everyone in Australia a millionaire; runs for office — and wins.

Two recurring themes are Martin's rebellion against living in the shadow of his deceased master-criminal brother, Terry, and the ongoing love triangle among Terry, Martin and Caroline Potts. If people would just stop asking him about his brother, he would be able to get on with his own life. Maybe. If there were another woman in the world he could love besides Caroline ... who knows what might have happened?

The real pleasure in reading this book is the pace and the language. While there is a narrative thread, what Toltz has done masterfully is have his way with every aspect of modern life. He racks 'em up and knocks 'em down with a laser wit, a fine turn of phrase and a devastatingly funny outlook on everything human.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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