A longtime friendship is tested in this comic novel that’s determined to find the elusive humor in matters of rape, suicide, imprisonment, and infanticide.
Aldo and Liam, the alternating narrators of the second novel by Australian author Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole, 2008), were high school classmates whose lives wildly diverged after graduation. Liam became a police officer and aspiring novelist, while Aldo became the kind of person who constantly courts intervention by the authorities. After failing at every day job he’s had and business he launched (including ill-fated porn and dating sites) and divorcing after his wife’s stillbirth, a suicidal Aldo stalks his ex, nearly accidentally smothering the newborn baby she had with another man. Later, he’s paralyzed below the waist (for reasons disclosed late in the novel), which only exacerbates his urge to do himself in. Liam, who first bonded with Aldo because each had lost a sister, does what he can to help, but he has his own marital strains and artistic failures to manage. Laughing yet? The comedy in this story is largely in the telling: Aldo is a fast-talking raconteur, well aware of how much he exhausts everyone around him but unable to stop explaining his serial haplessness. (“At least twice a year a bird flies into my head….When I play a piano, the lid invariably closes on my fingers.”) Toltz tries a variety of rhetorical devices to give this story an antic, irreverent feel—court testimony, conversations with God, police interrogation, poetry—but the overall effect is that of a writer trying too hard to mine unlikely topics for humor. Toltz means to say something about the enduring power of friendship in the face of our foibles and misunderstandings, but his efforts to apply a sincere tone to that theme feel forced and unearned.
Earnestly seriocomic, with the “serio” part arriving too late and the “comic” part too intermittently.