Fraction of the Whole (Toltz) - Discussion Questions

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1. How would you characterize this book? As a philosophical novel? A family saga? A comedy...or tragic comedy?

2. Steve Toltz' novel is long and packed with metaphysical ideas, strange characters, and mad-cap action. Some say its "stuffed" and "bloated." British reviewer James Wood has gone so far as to label it "hysterical realism"—which is both criticism and description. Others find the novel's screwball excesses delightfully rich and exciting. How did you experience A Fraction of the Whole?

3. Are the characters in this book sympathetic...likable? Do you care about them?

4. Describe Jasper Dean. What are his feelings toward his father? How has the father shaped the son—what affect did Martin's escapades have on Jasper? In his diaries, Martin worries his baby son "is me prematurely reincarnated." Is Martin right?

5. Martin proclaims, "I don't believe in anything." Is he right about himself...or not? What do you think of Martin?

6. Why might Toltz have chosen father and son to narrate his novel? What affect does the dual narration have on how we read the book—our understanding of it?

7. What about Anouk? What does she believe in? Why doesn't she like Martin, and yet why does she try to save him throughout the novel. What is her relationship with Jasper?

8. The novel's title is derived from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The moment we meet with anybody, each becomes a fraction." What does the passage mean...and how do both title and quotation relate to the novel?

9. Martin and his brother Terry are intent on solving the riddle of human happiness. Talk about the various schemes each devises—the suggestion box, the giant telescope, and the murder of corrupt sports figures. What does each scheme attempt to achieve? And why do they fail?

10. How would you describe Martin and Terry's relationship? Is Martin living in Terry's shadow?

11. What, or who, are the world's "inexorably tepid souls," and why are they the scourge of this novel?

12. How do you feel about the comment regarding God's treatment of Lot's wife:

Most of the time when God's supposed to be the hero, he comes across as the villain. I mean, look at what he did to Lot's wife....What was her crime? Turning her head? You have to admit this is a God hopelessly locked in time, not free of it; otherwise he might have confounded the ancients by turning her into a flat-screen television or at least a pillar of Velcro.

Do you find the comment offensive, humorous, insightful? How would you address the charges of God as a villain?

13. Talk about the Towering Inferno. What does it teach Jasper?

14. Talk about Jasper's high school perched on the Cliffs of Despondency—obviously a comment on the desperation of life for bullied youngsters. Is the parody effective...or does it miss the mark?

15. Talk about some of the other objects of satire and parody in this novel? What is Toltz lampooning in the 20th and 21st centuries?

16. What is this book about?

17. Have you read other works comparable to A Fraction of the Whole? Perhaps John Irving, John Kennedy Toole, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez? If so, what do any of these works have in common with Toltz's?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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