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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, November 17, 2008 3:26 pm
A Fraction of A Fraction of the Whole
Posted by: Keir Graff

To avoid unintended merriment at my expense, I’ll keep this short: Cynthia Crossen thinks A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz, is too long (“A Book in Need of a Good Editor,” The Wall Street Journal):

But the blurbers and reviewers were so enthusiastic — Mr. Toltz was compared to Mark Twain, John Irving, Martin Amis, Tom Robbins and even Charles Dickens. What more could I want?

A plot, compelling voices, believable characters and an editor with a machete for starters. There were a lot of funny moments and lines, and Mr. Toltz is obviously an exceptionally imaginative and witty guy, but where were his minders? Someone should have sat him down in an interrogation room and offered a plea bargain: Lose 100 pages or go to jail.

At 752 pages, however, Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed is just right, Crossen writes. While I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of good editing, Booklist begs to disagree about both books. Donna Seaman called A Fraction of the Whole a ”rampaging and irresistible debut.” And Joanne Wilkinson had this to say about The Hour I First Believed: “Lamb’s overlong narrative and endless recitation of tragedy dilute the power of his story.”

Crossen may wish to reconsider her “strict no-skimming rule”. As I believe many Readers’ Advisory librarians will tell you, if you’re getting bored, feel free to jump ahead–or quit reading entirely. This is fiction, not homework.

One Response to “A Fraction of A Fraction of the Whole
  1. Donna Seaman Says:

    Hi Keir,

    This is an intriguing post, and I can’t resist emphasizing my opening comment on the great length of A Fraction of the Whole:

    “Given that this hilarious, sneaky smart first novel is as big and rangy as Australia, Toltz’s home and the book’s setting, the title is a laugh.”


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