CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: James Franco on Luke B. Goebel’s Fourteen Stories, None of them are Yours
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by Courtney Maum
Editor’s note: Any resemblances to actual celebrities — alive or dead — are miraculously coincidental. Celebrity voices channeled by Courtney Maum.
My people: heart. The cottonwoods, the tumbleweeds, the grimy windshield wipers. Too tired, too much coffee. At sunrise today, I finished Luke B. Goebel’s “Fourteen Stories, None of them are Yours” and thought, my work on the continent is done.
I try to teach my students (fiction students — are they fictional?) about honesty. Honesty in all things. For instance: I wrote a story about a slumber party I had with a famous actress and how I didn’t fuck her and it was based on a time I shared a bed with a famous actress and didn’t fuck her, so what do you want to say about that? I’m not one for aliases — acting is my art, but I am myself all over, and that is why I fell so hard — I’ll spell it: viscerally — for this book.
Lean in here. Let’s be honest. I had a hard on the whole time I was reading Goebel’s words. Goebel writes about women like they’re shiny seaweed mammals: it’s all roses and nishy and female dogs in heat and papered motel wallpaper and rat holes in a ranch. This is the story of a man left by a woman but there’s no mention of cell phones or text messages, and that’s another thing I tell my students: write as if you’re in a beat up Hudson with Kerouac. You know, like in the nineteen-fifties. You’re not going to be in the car with Kerouac and start yacking about your phone, right? So, like, don’t write about text messages in fictional work. Unless it serves the story. And sometimes, when you’re dealing with a famous actress you didn’t sleep with who keeps sending you these snatch shots, sometimes it serves the work.
Okay, so anyway this book has like a really psychedelic structure. Very — I’m going to use industry jargon here, very “self aware.” The beginning of this novel is written by a narrator who refers to himself as “Yours Truly”, which would lead one to believe that Yours Truly is the author, and that this isn’t fiction, but a memoir — but modern criticism would have me separate the art from the artist, what a bore! There is “I”, there is “Yours Truly”, and then Yours Truly goes away. He tells us that he’s going. He tells us, in story 6 of 14, that he’s going to go away for a long time. He’s replaced by a narrator called H. Roc who’s replaced by “Kid” until the story, “Out There” when Yours Truly comes back. I was happy to have him back, I’ll say. The H. Roc chapters were disjointed. What does that mean, disjointed? I’m digitally cleansing this week, I’m off Dictionary.com, all that. Disjointed, the mid-chapters. They rang a little false.
I mean, you know when you’re really in the heat of it and when you are not. One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was supposed to play the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. That’s right, it was mine first. But let me tell you that when you’re really in the truth of things, the moment hums. The H. Roc chapters in this book didn’t striate. A fancy word again. Imagine me with beaded dreadlocks and a lot of Kohl around my eyes. No way that would have hummed! Did you see me in “Spring Breakers?” The musical interlude with the cocked Glocks and the palm trees and the white piano? Then you have seen my truth.
Here is something like an uncompleted lie: this book isn’t just about a man being left by a woman for another man. In this novel, I/Yours Truly/H. Roc/Kid loses his shit when he’s left by his woman savior, Catherine, for a Spanish man in France. (Ugh. I feel you, bro.) Our fallen hero drives around Manhattan with a Bald Eagle and a pothead. He leaves New York for a one-room ranch in East Texas. He buys a dog with multicolored eyes. He puts on a tie and teaches freshman English to a bunch of freshman. He fails at falling out of love with Catherine, but he doesn’t fail at that. It’s life affirming, isn’t it, Luke B. Goebel? Teaching freshman English?
Things are both bad and beautiful until they get worse. The narrator’s brother dies. He dies, he’s always dead, he was always too much alive. When you really come away from it, despite all the girl smells and the sex needs, “Fourteen Stories, None of them are Yours” is about brotherhood. It is also the story of a man who feels very little sympathy for his mom. There is an incredible scene in some hot resort where people are swimming and paying to ride horseback and paying to be massaged, and the mother sits down with a very expensive haircut and presents to her son with a “new friend” she’s made, a girl he writhed around with the night before, and the narrator wonders “Was Kid so bad as to make a mother set on smiling grimace? When she means to only smile at her kid?” And the child contemplates this trap, this gift, the redhead he’s already slept with who his mother wants him to eat at the table with, and he accepts by saying he’ll go put his riding clothes on, and the mother “smiled only with the muscles in her mouth and jaw.”
Weeeeeeeird, right? There is other stuff. Post bad-trip peyote stuff. Hospitals and such. The point of view shifts. The narrator — screw it, I’m gonna say author — comes in and beseeches us to put the damn book down. He tells us when it’s going to get from bad to worse. He announces when we have arrived at what he considers the most poorly written chapter, and by doing so, it does not become the worst chapter in the book. Although as a creative writing teacher, I have the credentials to affirm that it wasn’t super good.
Towards the end, the tone of “Fourteen Stories” gets contemplative. Our narrator has learned something, a hard something, a lesson that will change him and gnaw at him all his life. Before the narrator, this young brother, leaves for a round-the-world adventure, his older brother asks, “Why don’t you just stick around, Man? Don’t you just want to stick around and spend some time with me?” The narrator does, but he doesn’t. He leaves. And while he is motoring around Portugal on some imported scooter, his brother dies. “Life!” The bereaved writes, after. “It’s not chasing Catherine around. It’s not kid stuff.”
At the end of this book, we’re back with I again. I told you, he got contemplative. He wants the simple stuff: a truck rubbed with a washcloth, moonlight, chores. “A little domestic chore time is what we are up to.” This too, in the book. “You’ve done chores right? We all did chores, no? There were chores to do once. Remember the work that we had to do?”
Some writers write only one book in their lifetime. Some people write only one book in their lifetime. You see, writers can be people, and people can be writers, too. There is such a savage, sad, unsutured urgency to this novel, I wonder if Luke B. Goebel will survive another book. I’d like to see this ranch he wrote in. The holes he didn’t fix. I’m that kind of person: I see holes, I fill the hole, I leave a hole again. I am an artist who peoples and writes. I am a man who does not sleep with famous women in my famous bed. I’ll again quote Goebel here, Goebel, my man friend:
“You’ve been here in the world, have you not? You’ve been in a hotel? There’s nothing else.”