Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours

By Luke B. Goebel


September 2014

Reviewed by Tom DeBeauchamp


The crazy lyric energy of Luke Goebel's novel, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, hooks you. Its halting fragments and winding, keening, searching sentences disclose a man confessing the pain and shame of his life, the fictions of his dreams. It's the intimacy of his "talking mind [speaking] something, something big, something wild and free and in the music of myself, something utterly new in utterance," that binds the digressions and asides and interjections of the text into a whole, and transforms the real-life heartbreak and the made-up stuff of the mind into the beautiful stability of love.

Though there are characters in Goebel's novel, they are, importantly, extensions of Goebel himself. "Other," "the new cowboy" and "The Kid" are like alternate personal pronouns, ways of referring himself and his experience indirectly. "One got a ranch," he writes. "One was he. (He was me, why pretend?) He (why say he again? I'll tell you why: to give the old 'I' word a break)." Characters and narrative perspective focus the ideas of the novel, all of which revolve around the author himself.

It's Luke Goebel then who says:

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 [. . .] [O]nce you've lost someone like we have, you go on despite it. You make due without your due. You find holiness in the holes where time cuts you a break.

Goebel is a writer who, through much of his early life, fought reality, or transcended it. When his brother dies, though, all of that is thrown off kilter. In its way, Fourteen Stories lets him re-make his life, but with holes cut into it, breaks for the unreal to enter the real, for the true voice at the typewriter to intrude on the big yarn unrolling. He breaks in in the middle of one anecdote to say, "(I hadn't lost my brother, Carl, yet. Carl left us a few weeks ago. Over two months ago. (Over one year ago). Carl is gone. Carl died in his bed. [Two years ago.] There isn't any more Carl on this planet we are stuck to [. . .])."

A few weeks, two months, over one year, two years—that's all real time, and it fills the book with the author's presence, with him working through it, counting time, and feeling. What is he going to do? Who is he going to be? Now that his brother, who was the better part of his definition of himself, is gone from the earth, what's left for Luke of glory and honor, authenticity and masculinity? How but for fiction can he even ask the questions his brother's death raises?

In "Apache," a chapter that, at first, seems plausible enough, Luke heads west, to his mother's dude ranch. She tells him, "This isn't that real. Don't you know what a night here costs? [. . .] This isn't cowboys and Indians!"

The Kid, Goebel's stand-in, lives in an idea of the West, though, so rather than heed his mother's warning, he takes life lessons from an old hand called Apache. "'He's not real Apache,' said Mother. 'Not a true one, no.'" Even so, he teaches the Kid the dark side of horse racing, as if to cure him of sorrow: "'How are you to ride with me with guts without your guts?' he said. [. . .] 'Who cares what hurts you? Who cares what you feel! You have to hate the whole world. You have to hate what's not yours. Then you'll love.'"

The Kid follows Apache's glory-lust to its logical end, ultimately sawing off the old man's hand to save his life, an escalation that seriously, almost farcically, questions the story's verisimilitude. In the scheme of the book, this makes perfect sense. "Apache" doesn't exist for itself as a story, but as a working-through of the book's central themes. There's no easy metaphor connecting Apache's snake-poisoned hand to Carl's early death, but the guilt is there, as is the desire to save another man's life. It's a theatre in which the strangely absent author can figure it out, can allegorize and process.

This point about the power of fiction is most beautifully dramatized in "The Minds of Boys," a chapter that tells the tale of a group of runaways, the leader of whom drowns himself when the others find love and he doesn't. The surviving band of boys and the girls they've brought from the school dance stare into their beach fire, shared joy curdled away to tragedy:

Then a great wind rose up and stole the ash from off the coals, and they glowed hot in their red and cracking shapes. Each one in the party stared into the fire. And they all saw different things, creatures and animals and skulls, swords and ships, teeth and heads and all the forms that have existed now and always, but mostly in the minds of boys.  

Imagination resolves the real. Luke runs manically around the American west in an RV, crushed under the weight of his loss. By the time he gets back to East Texas, the unspoken work of these fictions has brought him back down to earth, cleaning balls of tar from his brother's truck: "You give it your all. You keep going. You have more and more power to handle it all. [. . .] You got to show someone who isn't here anymore that you love him . . . you have got to show the whole world you have what it takes to love them."

Scrubbing the truck, the book itself, all the time and feeling that went into it—these things take on ritual dimensions in this earnest ululation of a novel. Its title implies a collection of stories, but the connections throughout, the dependencies between tales, the interjections into them, say more, and are more compelling, than something so formally closed as a bunch of stand-alone fictions. Fourteen Stories knots together the real and the imagined, it transforms pain and loss into love.