Here Goes Nothing
Melville House (US)/Sceptre (UK), May 2022
ydney’s black sheep Steve Toltz, now resident in Los Angeles, publishes sparsely (three novels in fifteen years—the first, A Fraction of the Whole is an extravagant anti-saga, the second, Quicksand, a caffeinated classic evoking Stanley Elkin), but always serves up satisfying novels of unflinching misanthropy and cathartic black comedy. In Quicksand, the reader is taken on a blistering voyage au bout de la nuit to the darkest recesses of existence, at the core of which sits Toltz, snickering like an imp at the horrors and pratfalls of the human race, howling for kicks into the void. His hilarious pronouncements on life are beautiful koans, insane stand-up routines, hyperbolic rambles, tasteless shockers, and long monologues featuring razor-sharp and sublimely honed prose mastery.
In this one, ex-crim Angus and shock-pastor Gracie welcome the terminally ill Owen into their home as a permanent resident in exchange for the dying’s man worldly possessions. Very swiftly into this macabre arrangement, Owen murders Angus, who vaporises into a bardic halfway house for the newly dead and proceeds to watch as the vile interloper wheedles his way into his marital bed. The novel alternates between the disappointing afterlife where one’s financial obligations continue and Angus takes work as an umbrella salesman, while Gracie’s oncoming pregnancy results in a hilarious and shocking scene of a self-performed caesarean section where instructions are fed to her from the chat in a livestream. There is an apocalyptic flavour to the novel as the new pandemic K9, transmitted by dogs with a kill rate over 80%, spreads swiftly across the world, leaving Gracie with the problem of keeping her newborn alive in an unliveable world. As always with Toltz, the dialogue is wildly dyspeptic, the pace frenetic, and the style serves up an unapologetically bleak and bitter honesty that verges on the transcendent, making Toltz one of the world’s most powerful contemporary writers.
M.J. Nicholls is the author of the novels A Postmodern Belch (2012), The House of Writers (2016), The Quiddity of Delusion (2017), The 1002nd Book to Read Before You Die (2018), Scotland Before the Bomb (2019), Trimming England (2021), and Condemned to Cymru (2022). He lives in Glasgow.