Early in Barry Graham’s Nothing or Next to Nothing, narrator Derek Kehoe notes that minimal goals are much easier to achieve than are grand objectives. This attitude, it turns out, is his Achilles heel, for while he’s well equipped to handle the quotidian challenges of day-to-day life — scoring dope, booze, and women — the prospect of a major challenge leaves him entirely stymied. This major challenge occurs when the sister with whom he’s locked into an abusive, incestuous relationship disappears from his life, and he decides to go off in search of her. But The Searchers this ain’t, as Derek’s main assets in this mission are several sheets of blotter acid and a penchant for picking his nose. As a result, Derek’s search for his sister quickly transmogrifies into a soul-searching journey into every wrong road he’s ever taken, a retrospective of bad breaks and worse decisions. Throughout, Graham uses his immense talent for depicting the grim, gritty details of life in middle America to great effect and in such a way that calls to mind some of the best hopeless writing of the last century — most notably that of Selby and Bukowski. A stark study of the American dream, warts (literally) and all.
-Review by Marc Schuster