Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours[The University of Alabama Press; 2014]

Sometimes not knowing exactly what’s going on, or what will come next, is a very good thing. In Luke B. Goebel’s Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, the reader is thrown into a maelstrom of situations, emotions, places, and language that clash against each other at breakneck speed and form unique narratives that are held together by Goebel’s strangely rhythmic voice and knack for conveying strong feelings without trying to define or explain them. This literary frenzy removes all sense of security and prevents prognostication, and that sense of surprise makes for truly exciting reading.

Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours’ main character is Goebel’s alter ego, H. Roc, a passionate, smart man whose experiences seem to have stripped him bare, leaving every hypersensible inch of his being exposed to the elements, other people, and himself. Through a series of vignettes, H. Roc recounts a variety of crucial moments in his life, all of which are told in a prose that dances between the commonplace and the fantastic. Instead of a straightforward biography or a fictionalized biographical narrative with a regular arc, the book is made up of interrelated short pieces that crisscross the country and adhere only loosely to chronological order. The stories range from the sad silence of a hospital in which H. is diagnosed with pancreatitis and wild horse races that lead to blood and mutilation in Texas to a peyote-infused ceremony in Northern California and a hasty trip to an editor’s office in Manhattan in the company of some very strange allies.

While each story works well by itself, the cumulative effect is a strong pull that plunges both reader and author deep into a quirky fictional universe in which tales from the real world take on bizarre shapes. This real/fantastic juxtaposition somehow enriches the narratives instead of sidetracking them with uncanny elements. The combination of too-real feelings and outlandishness could be too strange to digest if it came from less capable hands, but Goebel’s peculiar and oddly lyrical prose make it work beautifully.

For a short book, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours is a very satisfying read, and most of that sense of fulfillment comes from the author’s style. While uniquely his, Goebel’s writing brings a plethora of literary giants to mind in the span of a single chapter. Short sentences are followed by half-page, single-sentence paragraphs that read like David Foster Wallace channeling Hunter S. Thompson. From stream of consciousness and short dialogue that borders on curtness to feverish passages that read like a peyote dream, the prose morphs as much as the tone and setting:

Newsflash! I’ve done the white man peyote walk for seven years plus. Meaning I can’t see right and I’m haunted by things that I do not understand, having blown my head and flesh wide open on the peyote paste with Indians circled around me in a teepee with feathers in hair and hand drums and old ancient chants which I think is just crying and getting it back together, and the grey ash of creation spinning out around the fire in timeless time pretime on the paste with the spinning ash like star matter making the universe—OH and fear—I will walk and talk and write and dress in a coat and tie and teach University English classes as Assistant Professor in Baptist country Texas.

Much like the main character, the reader will sometimes feel lost in a good way, adrift in a world that doesn’t always make sense. Despite the disorientation, every narrative provides anchors that serve as the book’s cohesive elements and allow the reader to remember that this is all part of a single, very personal story: grief, madness, beauty, love of language, and love of nature. This last element, much like grief, is one that permeates the text. However, unlike grief, all that comes from it is stunning. With eyes that seem to simultaneously see the here and now as well as that which lies beyond, Goebel emerges from this text as a frenzied, unapologetically religious, and very contemporary Gary Snyder who looks at Americana the same way he looks at deer:

 Sitting in the motel wingback, I could feel through the walls—the sun and sky. Pure peace and meditation. The sort of blue the sky was I was feeling out into the redwoods of the valley, sensing bridges trembling in traffic in the golden city, and the old veterans in bushes near the hill, like bears, like wildmen keeping the country going even still, maddogging the old city, growling, shouting around about remembering Fort Knox, live generals, field armies, air strikes, Marilyn Monroe, terrifying us all, and I could happily hear a tit or two harden in valleys between here and NYC, of Midwestern girls and their mothers, in training bras and big silk braziers with hooks and straps and eyelets and lace trimming and big pads, as nothing was beyond me…

Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours is about being; about lost love, travelling, fear, suffering, pain, animals, escaping, honesty, peyote, and desire. It is a novel in fragments and a thinly veiled autobiography of a man whose prose proves he has tapped into the magic the earth has to offer and is willing to share that magic with all of us.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth (Eraserhead Press) and a few other things no one will ever read. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Verbicide, The Rumpus, HTMLGiant, Entropy, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, and a other print and online venues.

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