The title character owns a run-down ranch in the high desert of northeastern California. Abel’s about as run down as the ranch, and when we meet him, he’s decided to put a stop to his miserable existence. We follow him from house to barn, a journey Schmidt describes with his typically concrete detail, every element of which bespeaks aspects of his character’s personality and situation. Abel climbs to the ridge beam, and we know why he’s headed there, and we wonder if Schmidt’s going to dispose of his title character in the first few pages. Not to worry.
Much of the rest of the novella is devoted to how poor Stover got into his current psychological and physical state. It’s not all pretty or pleasant, but it’s every word entertaining and meaningful. And it’s funnier than any book about suicide you’ll ever read. Really.
It’s a story of hot women, jilting and jilted lovers, and a getaway drive over Fandango Pass—it’s a real stretch of road, is Fandango Pass, and believe me it lives up to its name. Twists and curves and fasts and slows enough to match the real live Fandango held by the first wagon train to survive it and give it its name.
On your way to pick the book up, you may want to bone up on some of your cowboy terminology. Know what a latigo is, for example? Or how about a rodeo mugger? Or you may just want to wait till you come to the words and figure them out from context, which is what Abel’s trying to do most of the time—figure things out from a bewildering context.
Wit and humor is in short supply, I think, in modern fiction, especially when it adds scope and depth to a story. In the case of Abel Stover, Schmidt weaves scope, depth, wit, and humor into a lariat, tosses a loop around your shoulders, pulls you from one end of the tale to another and makes you enjoy every second.