(originally published in German, 2013)
(*To provide the my most honest, transparent description of this novel, I’ve simply copied and pasted the abstract that my Swiss editor requested.—JG)
The novel takes place entirely in one school day, on Monday, April 19, 1999, at Osborne High, one of the largest public high schools in the state of Kentucky, in a fictional small town. It is narrated by the protagonist, JAMES WEINBACH, all in first-person, past tense.
James is a seventeen-year-old senior. To say he doesn’t fit in is an understatement. Not only has he failed to make a place for himself in any of the various social groups (he’s not quite a freak, not quite a geek), but he is also estranged from the time in which he lives. He shuns youth culture—he won’t even wear blue jeans (a far cry from the protagonist of my previous novel). He loves all things old-fashioned: black and white movies, jazz, F. Scott Fitzgerald novels. He is an old man among toddlers, a romantic among sluts. He thinks of himself as being “the last gentleman.”
(*Note to Anna: there are two words that captivate me in relation to this novel, two words that I consider my “seeds.” One is “gentleman,” a word I fear may one day be considered archaic. James is trying to carry on the cause of this near-extinct breed. The other word is “regression.” James feels that the rest of the world is in a state of regressing, or devolving, because they seem to be dead-set on a path to become mindless animals. Essentially, the novel is about how James perceives the world to be in a state of decay, and he believes—perhaps naively?—that it hasn’t always been like this. He yearns for the “good ol’ days” that he sees in black and white movies, and that his older parents told him about, yet as he looks around his high school—which obviously represents American society at large—he is well aware that the good ol’ days are dead and gone. So the novel is about James dealing with the death of the good ol’ days.)
He is determined to show class in a place that has none. He wears a suit to school, and most people know him as “the guy in the suit.” He is exceedingly polite, but in this setting, his politeness isn’t even appreciated; people don’t know how to react to it.
His literary ancestors are: Miniver Cheevy (Like the title character from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, James was “born too late.”); T.S. Eliot (Osborne High is James’ Wasteland, deep in a state of moral decay and in desperate need of rebirth.); Ignatius J. Reilly (Though James doesn’t act as openly ugly toward people as Ignatius, they share a general disgust for pretty much everyone and everything around them.); and, of course, any troubled teenager in literature will inevitably draw comparisons to Holden Caulfield whether it’s intended or not.
(*Note to Anna—This will be my most character-driven novel. Unlike my other novels, this one entirely BELONGS to one character, plus he’s the narrator. My ultimate goal is that James is such a unique and compelling creation that the reader would like to call him up and be friends with him. With that said, I accept right now that some people will find James to be self-righteous and fussy. But I do think a lot of readers will identify with him. So many writers (novelists, screenwriters, TV writers) nowadays have their heroes be these nihilistic, amoral, bad-ass characters. This will be the rare protagonist who sees nothing but conformity in the hypersexualized, violent, drugged-out Cool Dude of the new millennium. I think there’s a quiet pocket of young people out there who wish that people still went on dates to soda fountains. This book is for them, and it is for the freaks, geeks, losers, and lonely people, to show them that they are not really alone at all.)
“Ich gegen Osborne is THE high school novel.”–Benedict Wells, author of Fast Genial
(originally published in US, 2008)
Somewhere in the middle of America dwells Blue Gene Mapother, a trashy, mullet-headed Wal-Mart stockboy-turned-flea marketer who staunchly supports any American war effort without question. Besides patriotism, little enlivens him besides pro wrestling, cigarette breaks, and any instance in which he thinks his masculinity is at stake.
Curiously, he is also a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country.
His mother, the fanatical Christian socialite Elizabeth Mapother, has a prophetic dream in which she sees Blue Gene’s older brother, the handsome but nervous John Hurstbourne Mapother, becoming an apocalyptic world savior. In order to fulfill his mother’s prophecy—not to mention his father Henry’s lifelong desire for his bloodline to ascend to Washington—John is running for Congress.
John soon finds that as a corporate executive he is not popular with his largely working-class constituents, many of whom work for him and his father. Now, after years of estrangement, the Mapothers need Blue Gene’s common man touch in order to cast their family name in a more favorable light with the voters. The Mapothers no longer shun Blue Gene for his embarrassing, low-class ways; they embrace him as political gold.
Will Blue Gene allow himself to be used? His family has ignored him the last four years and has only invited him back into the fold as campaign time looms near. But then again, even though the superrich John Hurstbourne Mapother clearly represents the interests of big business, man, he sure does have all the right values.
Through dark humor and cinematic story-telling, this small-town epic goes from a flea market to mansions to abandoned Wal-Mart buildings, dramatizing the deranged, absurd relationship between the high and low class of America.
*“Goebel is rightly seen in the USA as a rare talent who is predicted to follow in the footsteps of the very best. For he can do what only great writers can do: brilliantly dealing with the big questions of life while walking the line between exposing wit and touching candidness.“—Aachener Zeitung, Germany
*“Joey Goebel’s imaginative novel about the black stains on America’s reputation is like a well-made overlong film by Oliver Stone: getting out of hand, obsessed with detail, clever and popcorn compatible.“—Bücher, Germany
“Commonwealth is a devastating blow to the soul of the American people and at the same time a modern classic.“—The Gap, ???
“American literature has been torn down. Joyce Carol Oates’ birthday is looming. Atrocious writers are limping around the nursing home, waiting to be tossed into the coming darkness. Joey Goebel fearlessly goes out partying.” — Mickey Hess, author of Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory
Torture the Artist
(originally published in US, 2004)
Vincent Spinetti is an archetypical tortured artist. Throughout this sad comic novel, the sensitive young writer falls victim to alienation, parental neglect, poverty, depression, alcoholism, illness, nervous breakdowns, and various forms of unrequited love.
What Vincent is painfully unaware of is that these torments are largely due to the secret manipulations of New Renaissance, an experimental entertainment organization that is testing the age-old idea of art coming from suffering.
Since art has died and culture is instead influenced by music, movies, and television, New Renaissance hopes to improve mindless mainstream entertainment by raising writers who emphasize quality over commerce. For a top-secret sub-project, New Renaissance hires reluctant ex-musician Harlan Eiffler to manipulate its most promising prodigy, Vincent.
Wickedly anti-social and deeply disgusted by what passes for entertainment in the 21st century, Harlan “tortures” the unwitting Vincent in hopes of changing a sex-obsessed and violent American culture. For instance, during Vincent’s teenage years, Harlan pulls the strings so that Vincent remains a loser in the game of love. All the while, he poses as Vincent’s manager and guides the boy through a prolific artistic career, simultaneously nurturing and torturing his client.
“If you could bottle Joey Goebel’s imagination and sell it by the glass, we’d all be in rehab. Torture the Artist—which addresses the premise that art, like grapes in a wine press, can be squeezed out of an artist by various torments—is as full of surprises as a brand new vintage, and Joey Goebel is the wunderkind of contemporary American fiction.”—Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man and Famous People I Have Known
“In Torture the Artist, Joey Goebel performs a mad exorcism on the society of the spectacle, unearthing the secrets of the American dream, doing it with the inventiveness of a twenty-first-century Mark Twain fueled by love and sorrow.”—Peter Plate, author of Fogtown and Police and Thieves
“So as Fitzgerald tagged his generation’s excesses and delusions in The Great Gatsby and Bret Easton Ellis did the same in the 1980s with Less Than Zero, Goebel grabs the Zeitgeist by the nape of the neck and gives it a good twirl…” – Pages Magazine
“This novel, a pointed commentary on the media machine that continuously grinds away at our culture, is by turns hilarious, though-provoking, chilling, and sad. Goebel is a quirky, fresh, and relevant voice for our time.”—Library Journal (starred)
“Joey Goebel recounts, movingly, the desires and disappointments of being an adolescent. Above all, his writing inspires younger readers, as he is primarily concerned with those subjects that preoccupy young (and sometimes older) people: questions about the meaning of life and justice, the rejection of hollow compromises, a yearning for visions, the search for truth in a world of bluff.”—Der Spiegel, Hamburg
“There is hope as long as we have young writers like Joey Goebel.”—Die Welt, Berlin
“Torture the Artist is a great piece of writing that will stick with you long after the last page is turned . . . Another great book from this young author.”—IndieWorkshop.com
“Torture the Artist shrugs off your expectations and keeps you guessing, all the while digging its claws deep into the homogenized world of corporate “entertainment”. . . A distinctive voice that could hold its own against the best of Chuck Palahniuk.”—Tastes Like Chicken, Milwaukee
“Torture the Artist is a brilliant observation through a pinhole view of the structuring of what we know as the entertainment ‘industry.’—Dig This Real, New York
“I liked it so much that I can barely wait for publication day to start spreading it. Young readers and others who like cinematic reading experiences have been waiting for this book. The discovery of the year.” — Stephanie Juppner of Schul und Stadtbibliothek, Germany
(originally published in US, 2003)
Luster wants the ultimate form of the American dream—rock stardom—despite being a twenty-four-year-old man living in the ghetto with his crack-dealing brothers. Opal is a sex-crazed party machine despite being an eighty-year-old woman. Ember hates the world and wants to destroy it despite being an eight-year-old girl. Ray loves America and all of its inhabitants despite being a middle-aged, effeminate Iraqi soldier. Aurora is frigid and deplores young people despite being a sexy, Satan-worshiping teenager.
And now these misfits have formed a band—a band so different, so utterly unpredictable that they might just be able to slip between a crack, rise above their small-town existence, tour the world, and in the process make us all reconsider our stale old conventions.
“Young Joey Goebel is a born writer, one of those fated originals upon whose brainpan the mad language elves have drummed with their rubidium wands. Brutally insightful, ferociously funny—yet somehow strangely touching—The Anomalies is the freshest novel so far of the twenty-first century.”—Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker
“I’m not sure if Joey Goebel is brilliant or psychotic. A bit of both, I suspect. Whatever the case, The Anomalies is a hilarious, irreverent and wildly original roller coaster ride of a novel. Refreshing in its political incorrectness and about as unique as they come, this book introduces a loud new voice that I expect to hear much more from in the future.”—Silas House, author of Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves
“I really did like it. I’m not kidding. No one paid me to like it. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did.”—Joe Jack Talcum, singer/guitarist of The Dead Milkmen
“As the Anomalies rises to a sort of fame, Goebel ensures that we the conventional realize, if not our predictability, then at least the necessity of heeding the unpredictable—the uncommon—in those we might otherwise dismiss as misfits, quirks, oddballs. Rock on.”—Publishers Weekly
“The Anomalies is just that: an anomaly of a book, but in a good way. . . The story of these five friends living amongst us ordinary folks is eye opening, funny and ultimately tragic. Tragic in a sense that it may only be fictitious characters that have the courage to take a strong stand and break the mold of conventionality. Anyone looking for different type of read should not let this one pass by.”—January Magazine