Quicksand by Steve Toltz

QuicksandQuicksand is a fast paced novel that bombards the reader with a series of disastrous life events for its central character and a relentless flow of consciousness that is at turns enlightening and frivolous. It is at times hilarious and at others deeply thought provoking but in the end it is also exhausting and takes an effort of will to see through.

Aldo Benjamin is beset by failure and pain, both physical and mental, which may be the result of his ongoing struggle with an all-powerful deity testing him as a Job through eternal destruction, or might be linked to his own self-absorption. He copes with his problems by surrounding himself with people who can help him through them, which is one reason why school friend Liam continues to receive calls from his police colleagues to intervene in Aldo’s misdemeanours.

Liam is a frustrated author and sees Aldo’s extraordinary bad luck as the answer to his writer’s block. He sets out to write a novel that will inspire others through the schadenfreude of reading about his friend’s misadventures. Aldo has a string of failed businesses behind him and a defining failed relationship. He feels that life is an act of balancing on the line between his two greatest fears, prison and hospital, but he falls into both these hells with devastating effect.

He decides to finally wrestle his demons on a rocky outcrop, battered by the rain, wind, waves and sun as he seeks to meet his tormentor God so that they can “slit each other’s throats”. It is not an easy ride. For all of Aldo’s flaws he has suffered incredible abuse, some of which has been graphically described, and this battered, crippled man has every reason to shout out against life. There is no easy answer that can sweep away everything that has happened to him and there is no clean resolution for the reader, no happy ever after.

In the end Quicksand raises questions about life. If it is all just meaningless then what is the point of suffering through it and yet if there is some grand plan why does it involve all of this pain? All of us, even if we live comfortable lives, can empathise with the search for meaning and Aldo’s story may lead us to examine our own lives, but ultimately it can only set us off on that journey and we may never see it resolve.

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