Welcome to my new micro-interview series, which focuses on recent releases that I’ve found noteworthy. Past entries are archived here.
In this series I’m asking writers to respond to the two questions I most frequently ask when I’m teaching a book in the classroom: (1) what is the text doing / how is the text doing it, and (2) with what does the text connect?
These questions arise from my particular approach to reading and critical analysis, which is deeply indebted to Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. As they put it, “Literature is an assemblage…a book itself is a little machine…writing has nothing to do with signifying…it has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”
So, without further delay…
I present Luke B. Goebel, whose recent book Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours has been described thusly:
“About twenty pages into Luke B. Goebel’s Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, I realized I was reading with one hand holding my forehead and one balled at my waist, kind of clenched, and gazing down into the paper like a man soon to be converged upon. Goebel’s testimony comes on like that: engrossing, fanatical, full of private grief, and yet, at the same time, charismatic, tender, and intrepid, aglow with more spirit than most Americans have the right to wield.”
—Blake Butler, author of Nothing and Scorch Atlas
“I would call this, fey as it sounds, ‘American bard yawp,’ not so much concerned with what it means as whether I have stolen it or not, and I would hazard that this Luke Goebel feller, if we may pretend for a itty bit the word is not exactly pejorative, is ‘insane.’ We have here the fine coherence of the not-deliberately incoherent, a proud-standing mess, like a Faulkner mess. It’s after the ‘the giant American heart’ that Kerouac and Kesey were after in their Neal Cassidys, you have Burroughs and Bukoswki rants, Ashbery misconnections, Hannah whiskey whistling, and spinning up from it once in a while the fist of the perfectly put. If this is a work of non-fiction, it is a miracle that its author is alive. If it is fiction, it is the miracle. By my eye, it is not made up. It is received, has been done to its author, like a beating, and he is not unhappy at how he’s taken the beating.”
—Padgett Powell, Whiting Writers’ Award winner and author of Edistoand You & Me
“I’m in love with language again because Luke B. Goebel is not afraid to take us back through the gullet of loss into the chaos of words. Someone burns a manuscript in Texas; someone’s speed sets a life on fire; a heart is beaten nearly to death, the road itself is the trip, a man is decreated back to his animal past–better, beyond ego, beautiful, and look: there’s an American dreamscape left. There’s a reason to go on.”
—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase
What does your book do and how does your book do it?
My book takes a life and a voice—and one that has been deflowered, that has been exploded, that has been shattered, has been rolled, been lived through, that has been dreamed up, drugged up and drank up and crazy for decades, lost and regained, damaged itself and been damaged, has lost and lost again, that is heartbroken but too-dumb-and-too-manic-and-too-spirited-to-leave-dead-for-dead, that needs to get itself together and does so through the telling, brain in the jar, that picks up the ball and the engine of body and runs forward in prose, resurrects, takes back, steals back and doubles-back, gets itself a body and word and makes the world the world again, makes this time alive on planet to talk, speak time, speak through itself for America and new-now, proclaim for faith and love, falling for those it long-ago fell for all over again, seeking redemption if it can be redeemed but will not be redeemed without trial, without putting it all out on the line, without cementing the flag of its own profanity.
It also takes the reader and shakes rattles and rolls them, gets them involved, gets their heart smearing on the page, gets the reader in up to their own eyeballs and rubs them all over the page.
HOW does it do this? I haven’t the slightest. It’s truly something beyond me. It’s a dance between the unknowable outer world and the unknowable qualities of language and sound (Saussure and how we cannot know how language developed and why some language has sound of music that makes us feel), and the unknowable self, all brought together by the unknowable powers of self at the wheel of life and language doing it by impulse, by training, by experience, by instinct. But it cannot be stated how. It’s a mystery. It’s just something that I put myself into for years and years by writing stories and then took the stories to the road with a 31-foot-motorcoach with a generator after the book had already won a prize and awarded a contract, and wove them together out of the urgency of having lost my only brother, and being lost, having been crazy for years and years, and having done all I have-and-had done, much of which I had done being far outside of the normative world, and the result, the result is the madness between the covers.
Having identified your book’s comportment, could you bring it into focus by describing its relationship to other texts? (By “texts” I mean any relatable objects.) Put another way: if we think about a book as a star in a constellation, or a node in a circuit, I’m interested in hearing about the constellation or circuit in which readers might find your book. Put yet another way: if we think about your book as contributing to particular conversations, could you describe those conversations and their other participants?
Great question. Eazy Rider & Virginia Woolf, Holden Caulfield & On The Road, Gordon Lish, & Gertrude Stein, Hazelden Rehab Facility & Palm Springs and Willie Nelson’s daughter Paula, Miles Davis & San Francisco & the East Village, Susan Steinberg & architecture, Jack Nicholson & Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia & eagle vision, fox & mountain lion and Scripture, Mt. Girl & the 80’s, Carl Goebel & Marie Goebel, Steve Goebel & Liz Eiting, Minster, Ohio & Chevy Chase, Wiley Coyote & Padgett Powell, Neil Young & Kools, Janis Joplin & lubricant, Bob Dylan & Moby Dick, Harold Brodkey & John Gardner, The Velvet Underground & The Weather Underground, Las Vegas & New England, New York City & LSD, Jim Morrison & Kentucky Fried Chicken, June Carter & Waylon Jennings, semi-truck-trailers and marijuana grows, National Parks & colt revolvers, the desert & horses, airliners & freight trains, the dust of the imagination & peyote, bits of lime & the beach, the female form in all its forms and the body of boys and men.
Luke B. Goebel is the recipient of the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction for Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours and the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award. He earned a BA from the University of San Francisco and an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is an Assistant Professor down in Texas for the time being.