Before I begin this review, I must tell a brief history. I had been avoiding his class for at least two years. I had enjoyed his 3308 Literature Theory course, not because of the subject, but because of him. His presence. His charisma (I know that sounds pathetically predictable but let me have this dammit). The man was simply unlike anything I had ever seen before. I felt I was in the presence of a real genius of creative spirit and intellect. And okay, I was originally and selfishly interested because he was a published writer. When the class ended I didn’t feel comfortable taking another one of his classes so soon. I developed a mimic version of him that impressed my friends but something kept me away. He would say hello and I would talk but something wasn’t ready to join him in a class again. Finally I felt ready and I signed up for Creative Writing I with Professor Luke Goebel. The first semester I was reminded immediately why I loved his class so much. Apart from the real lack of grading (not that you didn’t earn your grades, you certainly did) Luke created a space that is indefinable. Like Heavy Metal music and truly great salsa, it has to be experienced in every core of your body soul mind psyche spirit, ya dig? Each day in class he exposed us to new writers who were writing texts that made the books in other classes seem predictable or old hat. He taught us what could be done with language, that everything wasn’t simply subject, verb, object. You could play with writing. The best sentence I ever heard from him was, “You don’t read a story to figure out what happens, you read a story to figure out how it’s told!” There was not a day I did not laugh. When it came time to present my stories there were three moments before the final experience that made me the writer I am today. He seemed to like my first story, he offered suggestions. My second story he liked until it reached one paragraph. And finally I brought him two stories to his office and he ripped me apart. Crying at a table near the library of my university I felt that he was right, that perhaps I shouldn’t be a writer, and that I wasn’t good enough. Like I didn’t have the stuff to push into that space where words and literary wonders sing like the heavenly bodies. But I went home and tried again, and when I presented my short story It’s World War I and Nobody’s Singing he couldn’t stop talking. His eyes, and those that have known the man know what I speak of, Luke Goebel’s eyes are powers unto themselves and can break you down unless you hold that stare and face them, centered on me and I had one thought: “I finally beat the son of a bitch.” Like the Kid facing the Apache though, without a doubt one of the most powerful chapters of the novel, this victory seemed to come at a price. And if the novel attempts any theme, it is that our victories leave bits of us behind that we are always trying to recapture but never will.
A paragraph into Fourteen Stories and None of Them Are Yours there is one sentence that instantly hits me: “I have always felt like I am getting away with something being alive.” So begins the journey of H. Roc the central narrator/figure/bard yawper that frames the new novel by Luke Goebel. The book, and I say this not only because I know the man and am honored to have studied under him, is totally unlike anything I have ever read. H. Roc constantly re-assess his place within reality, within culture, within “America, America, America,” within the sphere of romance, within the family, within virtually every component of human existence, and sometimes surpassing even that. He will break the fourth wall, however unlike some works that attempt to use this as a clumsily disguised plot device; H. Roc only means to bring the reader deeper into the experience that is his world. That is everybody’s world and is ours for the taking but we don’t because we are too stuck in other, more stifling narratives.
We come to understand a few things about the man. He has had a great romance with a woman named Catherine, his brother Carl has died, in his past he has been (a junkie is perhaps the wrong word so I will instead employ the term experienced with world expanding substances) in and out of rehab, he has experimented with peyote, he has bounced from New York to San Francisco (those palm trees man those palm trees) and landed somewhere in East Texas. I describe the experiences of H. Roc because there appears in the novel no real sense of plot because plot is not important. What is important is the narrative structure of the experience for that is the location of what we might consider the “plot” of the novel.
Any who take the time to read the novel, and you should because I promise you there will never be a book like this again, will see the influence of at least two great writers: Walt Whitman and J.D. Salinger. Both of these voices can become apparent for while there is the Whitman yawp, the call and invitation to enter into the song of immortality, there is the harsh bite of Salinger reminding us that the world will always get a little sick pleasure joy high off of beating us down. H. Roc’s voice is constantly calling upon the reader’s soul and almost raising it to the same level of drug induced literary splendor. Not literary splendor for that seems too limiting in some regards. The “yawp” of the book, invites you to step outside what is possible in this drearily limiting reality and allow you to see the power of the potential of your own self.
There is a moment in the book, there are several moments in the book, that will leave you speechless, but will also exhaust and simultaneously lift you as a reader, and I have cited it here for you:
The kids are all staring at me. Sometimes it’s unbreakable how the beauty of art comes after you, making you feel everything and bawl in front of the very people you’re supposed to be hectoring.
It is unlikely that Fourteen Stories will become a movie (for who could direct it?) or an international bestseller (for who could read it who hasn’t a soul?). I have shared a very brief and very poor review of this book because in my life there has never been such an influence and intellectual parent to me as Luke Goebel. I have cried more times while reading this book, read in two days but only because my nose is a dick, than I have ever in any other text.
I began with a brief story and so I shall end on another. I took creative writing II with a group of individuals who constitute one of the greatest bodies of talented writers I have ever known. Luke gave us his time, his talent, and his advice. By the
end of the semester I became terribly sad because I knew I would never have another class like this. A class where the people sitting next to me were not just friends of acquaintances, they were a familial unit of intellectual and creative companions that inspired one of the greatest stories I have ever written. Another Challenge Put Forth to the American god, was written in ten minutes and when Luke looked at me with those Wildman eyes and said, “You nailed it Jammer” I knew I had.
There is chapter of the novel called Apache and so I will end my review with it:
In their time, two by two, the boy would only change one thing and that he would never change. Then there was the time with Apache. They had had some rides.
Take the ride. I have. It has forever changed me and I would never look back. Take the ride, and be prepared to travel to land in your soul you’ve always traveled, but never before have you had a voice that said it so like this book has.
Fourteen Stories and None of Them Are Yours is available for purchase at Amazon and Powell’s books on-line. Read the book, because as I said, there will never be another book like this. And Luke, if you’re reading this please forgive me if I have failed in this review. Thanks for everything man.
Huggs and Kisses