“We liked it a whole lot” – Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz

IMG_2022-5-20-211028“If the tone was a little more modulated throughout, it would be a little easier going,” we wrote a little over six years ago when we reviewed Steve Toltz’s last book, Quicksand. In his third book, Here Goes Nothing, he manages to do just that and fashions an entertainment that is at least in reaching distance of his debut masterpiece A Fraction of the Whole.

Angus Mooney is a bit pissed off. In the main, he is pissed off because he has been murdered by a man who has a bit of a thing for Angus’ other half, Gracie. But he is also pissed off because, upon dying, he has turned up in a grubby urban afterlife full of people who are also a bit pissed off to realise that life carries on, only without the benefit of wifi. Not only does he have to get a job, when he finally discovers how to commune with his old life, it turns out that his murderer is spooning with the missus. Life isn’t fair.

But Here Goes Nothing is also the story of Gracie, newly widowed, heavily pregnant, dealing with bereavement at the height of a terrible pandemic (not that pandemic but, you know, similar enough to give us all goosebumps). Tricked by a malingering doctor called Owen (who lies, saying he was brought up in her house and, as he’s dying, could he shack up there again just to get close to her), she asks herself could he possibly have murdered Angus and decides to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all,

“She wondered when one human being had last given another human being the benefit of the doubt – 2005? And why were all the most selfish people on the planet pretending to have empathy burnout?”

What’s more,

“The whole discourse now seemed like someone’s overreaction to someone else’s overreaction to a hysterical response to an innocuous comment.”

And so we have Angus, in his own urban hell, Gracie, struggling with a great many challenges, and Owen himself, sneaky, sleazy, awful Owen – and you might be tempted to compare Owen and Angus to Aldo and Liam from Quicksand but hold off on doing that because, as we said, Toltz is modulating his tone a fair bit here – and so yes, there are comic barrages, crescendos, machine-gun joke sprays – but there is also calm, and anger, and (perhaps most importantly) narrative and story and plot and – you know, reasons to keep turning the pages over to find out what happens next.

Toltz is in particularly good form. Here he is on what it is like to be murdered:

“What happened next is difficult to put into words. Think of a sea mist that’s entirely black. Now picture that mist blooming inside you. Now consider how it might be to change places with a shadow. Then visualise your heart circling a drain. Now imagine you’re a plant at the moment it’s pulled up by its roots. Following that, envision being a dawn in reverse and your lungs being erased atom by atom while your head is lowered in a pit of mud.”

It’s thoughtful and it’s tender and it’s bright. It’s funny (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by unceasing self-regard and a dopamine-addiction feedback loop”), often relentlessly funny, but it also works quite hard to try and understand the big topics it’s wrestling with – and, swept away by all of this hyperdynamic gimcrackery, the darkness, when it comes, lands with the kind of almighty wallop Hardy fashioned in Jude the Obscure.

So, as far as we are concerned, either we blow hot and cold on Toltz (loved the debut, disliked the sophomore Quicksand, back on track with Here Goes Nothing),  or we got it wrong on Quicksand – but howsoever it goes, we just want to be unequivocally clear that we liked Here Goes Nothing a whole lot.

Any Cop?: Like an ever so slightly more restrained Tom Robbins, Steve Toltz pulls out all the stops in Here Goes Nothing and we think it might be one of the highlights of the year.

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