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Bookworm: ‘Here Goes Nothing’ – Funny and a little on the wild side

‘The New Black West’ is delightfully different

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Here Goes Nothing” author Steve Toltz.

“Here Goes Nothing”

  • By Steve Toltz
  • c. 2022, Melville House
  • $26.99, 384 pages

So, how’s the weather up there? Does it rain or snow, or is there constant sunshine? Are there animals where you are? Do you have houses or hobbies up there? Come to think of it, are you even up or do you go to a separate but parallel plane when you die? In the new novel “Here Goes Nothing” by Steve Toltz, those answers and more may be TMI.

The first thing Angus Mooney knew when he woke up was that he was naked.

“Here Goes Nothing” by Steve Toltz.

Naked, in the middle of nowhere, and there was a fight to catch a rickshaw out of ... where? Where was he, and where did he need to be? One of the rickshaw drivers finally told him: he was dead.

Oh, right. Angus remembered then that he and his wife, Gracie, had been fooled into taking care of a man named Owen who’d lied to them before moving into their house. When Angus learned about the lies, Owen admitted that he was in love with Gracie and he killed Angus right then and there, leaving his body in a rubbish bin.

And so, Angus mourned, wherever he was, which seemed to be some sort of hedonistic holding place where people still needed to work. That was important because there was a plague on Earth that’d started with dogs and spread to humans, which were arriving in the dead place in tremendous numbers. They – the recently dead, that is – had to have somewhere to be before they went wherever they were going to go later, or something like that. Nobody seemed to know for sure.

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But there was some good news: Gracie had been pregnant when Owen killed Angus, and Angus missed his wife and his daughter but he finally learned that there was a way to let them see him. His ghost. Whatever, but you bet he did everything he could to pay for that.

Then one day, he looked up from his drink at the dead place bar, and there was Owen. ..

You might already have the impression that “Here Goes Nothing” is kinda weird. And you’d be right.

It’s weird, but it’s also irresistible. It’s hilarious sometimes and full of pathos at others, and there’s just enough chaos in the plot to make you want to know what’s next. Author Steve Toltz’s characters are all villains, from the scheming Owen to the bordering-on-insane Gracie to Angus, who’s dead at the outset of the book.

The plot itself is one thing. The prose is quite another.

Toltz writes sentences that’ll make you spit out your coffee, followed by a turn of phrase that makes you want to bookmark the page so you don’t forget it. Readers who are word nerds, take notice: the writing itself is ... wow!

This probably isn’t a book for everyone; there’s profanity here and that’s the least of it. Still, if you’re up for a funny novel that’s a little on the wild side, say “Here Goes Nothing.” Yeah, it’s weird but you’ll weather it just fine.

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“The New Black West”

  • By Gabriela Hasbun, forward by Jeff Douvel, regional coordinator, Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo
  • c. 2022, Chronicle Books
  • $40, 128 pages

Things sure look different from five feet up. The first time, you might feel nervous to be there; the animal you’re astride doesn’t know you and you don’t know what it’ll do. But before long, you feel like you’re in a rocking chair. You can almost see for miles and you begin to understand power. And in the new book “The New Black West” by Gabriela Hasbun, you see peek history between the ears of a horse.

"The New Black West" by Gabriela Hasbun, forward by Jeff Douvel.

A hundred sixty years ago, “more than eight thousand Black cowboys rode in the western cattle drives.” They did everything that every other ranch hand and cowboy did back then but “their stories have largely been untold ... ”

In 1984, a promoter named Lu Vason realized one day that the “granddaddy of them all,” the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, was lacking Black cowpokes. Upon returning to his home in Denver, Vason began researching and raising funds to start the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named after the “legendary” Bill Pickett, who cowboyed at the turn of the last century and was the first Black cowboy inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. To this day, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, now held on the second weekend in July in Oakland, California, is the only touring Black rodeo in America.

But it’s not all ropin’ and ridin.’

Says Hasbun, the deep tradition of riding horses and roping calves is also passed on to youth in trouble, through participating stables and organizations. The rodeo is a chance to show off horse, saddle, boots, and bling, since you want to be “dressed to impress” if you’re in the parade. It’s a great excuse to spend a day with horses, and to share that love with rodeo watchers who want to learn, too. The rodeo is a challenge and a way to honor those who’ve accepted that challenge in the past. It’s a way to “change the headlines.”

And the rodeo is family.

For many readers, “The New Black West” may be like no other book you’ve had.

There is not, first of all, much to actually read here. Author and photographer Gabriela Hasbun instead offers a nice “Artist’s Statement” in which she explains African American cowboys in history and the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo’s beginnings, and she writes short captions for the photos in this book, but that’s about all there is to read.

In that sense, Hasbun lets the illustrations speak for themselves.

Browse through this book and meet men and women who are grateful for the horse that turned their lives around. Look at the gorgeous parade-worthy clothing, the custom-made (designer!) saddles, and the (literal) snake-skin boots. Then don’t be at all surprised if you find yourself looking for tickets, so you can see those things up-front and in person this summer.

This is a book you’ll page through again and again, and never get tired of doing so. It’s one you can share with the kids and maybe inspire them. “The New Black West” is something that’s delightfully different.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.