Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours by Luke B. Goebel
Fiction Collective Two, 2014; 184 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
Disclaimer: I studied fiction with Luke B. Goebel at the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“He would see his brother in heaven or there was no such thing—if not—if so, then this was the horridedessly beautiful thing here on the world. Even a fool or a coward can see it and feel it—that if there’s nothing more than this life it is the wildest and most painful farce. The art of being here to watch the ones you love go away from you, and die—and one’s self slip away. If there’s more, why can’t we know? Why stay, if we are to be cowards, most of all?”
If I could spend the day inside Luke B. Goebel’s head, I might choose to do so—but I wouldn’t stay long. His debut novel, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, makes one feel pain—and deeply—in a way that is both arresting and strange. Goebel’s world is one of peyote animal hallucinations, of Apache, western desert encounters. It is also one of heartbreak so real it can change one’s perception of the world.
Although written in a stream-of-consciousness-style rant, Goebel’s work reminds me more of American folklore and tall tales such as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox than it does of the Beats Generation or Modernism. Fourteen Stories does not follow a linear structure. Although time progresses, the novel also jumps forwards and backwards and includes oddly juxtaposed stories within its main frame such as “Apache,” the tale of the Apache and the kid.
While it is difficult to read at times, Goebel’s work is lyrical in nature and when it hits, it hits hard. It is the story of a young man who has lost both his girlfriend, Charlotte, and his older brother, Carl—the first due to a breakup and the second to death. The narrator, in some ways, is attempting to move on with his life—yet the novel is more about his ruminations than it is about the narrator’s ability or inability to let go.
There are parts to the novel that run off on tangents, some of which are difficult to follow, yet Goebel always returns to the narrator’s voice—one that is both haunting and true. This attention to voice, in turn, complicates the language and the overall structure of the book.
My favorite chapters are “Hogs,” a brief section on the narrator’s mother, and the “The Minds of Boys,” which follows the lives of several troubled boys, led by Keiko. In this section, the author describes the innocent yet seedy atmosphere of a preteen dance.
Goebel writes: “The good-lookers all stood in a circle on center court and inside the circle was a girl wearing a brace. It started down at her collarbones and held bars that rose up and attached to pins sticking out of her skull. She looked caged inside there. And her eyes moved. She’d been shot accidentally in the neck by a stray bullet from a helicopter on her way to school one day. She would wear the brace until spring.”
As meandering as Goebel’s work seems, at its core it is a novel that is not afraid to bare the foolish, tragic nature of human life. It is difficult to sum up Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours in a way that feels true. To get to the heart of the text, one must first read it, slowly, finding the essential lines that lie within its chaotic mess.
“Your hand. I wish I could see your hand. See them both and hold onto them for a moment,” writes Goebel. There is such longing in Goebel’s lines; they read like poetry. It is the work of an author with such heart that each line is both difficult and meaningful all at once. While the title seems to be bragging, it is not. These are truly fourteen stories that only Goebel could write.