Fourteen Stories, None Of Them Are Yours, a novel by Luke B. Goebel, Fiction Collective 2.
In this too-brief debut novel-in-stories, “Fourteen Stories, None Of Them Are Yours,” Luke B. Goebel’s first-person narrator is raucously heartbreaking as he finds his way through his grief over the loss of his older brother Carl and the leaving of his great love Catherine into an equally uncertain place that is frighteningly prodigious, one where the young artist is hell-bent on proving himself to an indifferent society, where he gains the soul-flattening understanding that you’ll never love like you did the first time around, as deep as you did, but a place nonetheless where he persists in his fool’s quest, hits open road to find at the end of all his searching that “there is nothing outside of America.”
The existentially-sickened narrator in “Insides” casts odd light on his sickness (which may be real, or maybe not, either way it’s Heartbreak) with lines like “I always feel like a little guy trying to prove I can,” and “I have always felt like I’m getting away with something being alive.” And this is why we like him, the underdog, and also because he is untrammeled by his own failure in love, damning himself to play victim to his own inclinations toward proving his battered heart true to anyone that will listen. In a world where you can buy anything, what’s the value in trying to love someone if all you have known of love has been pain?
In “Drunk and Naked as He Was,” the narrator turns his attention beyond diagnosing his pain to the more intellectually demanding (and consequently more provocative to read) problem of what it means. He slips into a boisterously Beckettian questioning of, if not complete fascination with, the idea that one can hardly ever tell anything other than lies while still somehow – and for Goebel, this is the real miracle – telling the truth. Or, as he takes it another way, the truth is better told in lies, one of the novelist’s old verities and means of maintaining, in however small degree, what Conrad called the artist’s requisite “invincible conviction.”
The book’s best meat comes cut from its middle, the pair of stories “Tough Beauty” and “Apache.” The success of these stories comes by dint of their incredibly heartfelt ruminations on the possibilities of full living and dying while simultaneously masquerading in an endlessly entertaining road-weathered rebel’s narrative voice reminiscent of the best stories of Barry Hannah, Barry Gifford and Peter Christopher. They cover us, through gorgeous displays of linguistic inventiveness, with honest to God feelings of transgression, only to lift that imagined veil to show us “the art of being here to watch the ones you love go away from you, and die – and one’s self slip away.” And to ask, “If there’s more, why can’t we know? Why stay, if we are to be cowards, most of all?” Goebel seems to have an answer – to the second question at least, a conviction to which the book itself is evidence – but one he chooses to keep mysterious throughout the rest of the book’s unfolding.
Luke B. Goebel drives his stories with consciousness-crowding performances of language: a voice prime green and bluefire-tinged, lonely and howling out against the crimes of cool logic and unloving lovers. His voice is more frantic than seductive, which is not to say there’s not an element of seduction at play here, Goebel is after all a master of the type of sentence that demands the reader’s empathy, if not entire implication. He doggedly sticks to the hard, brown, nut-like word, to use the purely Barthelmean. His broken syntax, shifting perspectives, and mixed fantasies clang together to sustain what feels like a novel pitch in literature. These frenzied, peyote-enlightened visions proceed in such a pleasing rush, something like Coleridge gone through rehab and come back to prophesy of love lost and taken away and brought back again, effectively novelizing his peculiar vision of America.
And it’s with such strange powers of speech that Goebel, more toward book’s end, eschews more mimetic affectations and easy categorizations of time and memory in favor of the figurative or seemingly purely random, which is really no hiccup because one gets the sense the author has lived these stories. Whether or not he did doesn’t seem to matter because the stories are told sans arrière-pensée and as if they should have happened. Here, in the language, in the sentences themselves, the most ambitious themes of the book are pressurized and most realized – isolation at its most intense and directly felt, desire to break through the constraints of language and tap into a consciousness more pure and eloquent than the one we’ve got -and here also it is apparent that Goebel has announced himself as a proud new talent and of stronger voice than most of the writers working, bless them, to further the forms of the novel.
Luke B. Goebel is the recipient of the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction from FC2 and the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award. He earned a BA from the University of San Francisco and an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Tyler. He was born in Ohio and grew up in Portland, Oregon.
Gary Sheppard has written stories for New York Tyrant, Redivider, PANK, Everyday Genius and other places. He was the recipient of a John & Renee Grisham Fellowship at The University of Mississippi, where he earned his MFA. Born and raised in Mississippi, he now lives and writes and teaches in Florida.