a joey and his anomalies|
Review Date: August 2003
Imagine a black Holden Caufield, a token thinking beauty (boobs with brains) and a dark, yet lithely prancing Quentin Crisp all meet Harold and Maude. This is the basic formula for "the anomalies" by newbie joey goebel, a notable debut novel for a young writer who demonstrates potential and nascent talent. However, as bright as goebel's future may be, the story has a few major flaws. In particular, goebel over-employs two literary devices throughout, to the point when the book tilts awry like a pinball machine.
First, the novel is angst-ridden. The use of stereotypes to fashion an anti-socialist, anti-commercial, anti-complacency and conformity strain of modern "philosophy," is a bit dysfunctional and does not present enough cohesiveness to make the story or characters convincing enough for the average reader to be compelled to know more about them.
Second, the narrative is written from the supposed point of view of everyone, that is—every odd and random character in the novel. Although it centers about a motley crew of five misfits, every person they encounter in their small town concentricity, including God at one point, has something to say as well (and unfortunately the reader too must trudge through). It is a novel mechanism to generate interest, but stops functioning after the first of fifteen chapters.
Oddball #5 of the group, Ray, is particularly annoying, because his character development is so poorly wrought. He is supposed to be an effeminate Iranian ex-patriot who speaks battered and war-torn English, except that the battering was done by a baseball bat, rather than some basic research, wit, pensive plotting and a pen. Having a cumulative eight years of collegiate study in international relations, four years of work experience in the field of foreign affairs and hundreds of "foreign" acquaintances and friends over the years, not to mention having lived in NYC for over a decade, familiarity with what smells, drives, serves, walks, and talks foreign is intuitive. Thus, the shabby character goebel has written into this staid story is not convincing, for it is neither authentic nor even a bad rendering of a parody of stereotypes.
Moreover, there are too many other unnecessary or unanswered questions. Proof lies in action, not inertia. And there is a lot of the latter going on in this tale which swings about without a care, for there is nothing there lying between it and the author's Cheshire grin.
For example, Luster, the leader of the band, touts his music to no end, but never shows any substantial part of it. If his lackluster dialogue is not musical, than where does the harmony lie? It certainly is not in the random tidbits of quotations he occasionally spews to sound inanely philosophical. Also, ironically, Luster's trademark expository banter on platitudes becomes quite trite itself after the first exploitative scene.
Don't get me wrong, Goebel has talent. He'd do a great job, and perhaps one much more worthy of his skills if he attempted a non-fiction biography on a single or a "lot" of eccentric people - famous or not. Perhaps, a work that combines the likes of Studs Terkel and Dr. Oliver Sachs. He would make much more of an everlasting statement, if that is ultimately what he cares or dares to do, if he uses material which in fact is stranger than fiction.
In the end, it is all too obvious that this kid joey hops about with a tale rife with trite observations and bits of tried wisdom garnered by a 22 year-old with his ears piqued high. He prospectively will be a better novelist should he pursue the art by filling pages with insight gained and garnered as he lives and endures a life enriching him with a perspective and an opportunity to present the profound.
Furthermore, the prose with which he presents his pseudo-suburban down-with-the-common-man observations needs dire improvement. The style for each character does not vary and after a few chapters suspension of disbelief caves into the inferno of the earth. After a mere single chapter, one can clearly see that goebel has fallen into a pattern. If you ignore the attempt at quasi-original content for the sake of literary analysis, the cadre of voices goebel attempts to write quickly become one drone.
American writers tend to abuse the use of the first-person pronoun, and Goebel exemplifies this savage habit. Every section opens with a fuselage of "I"s that immediately indicates that even though each character has his or her own particular rant, ultimately it is one person, the author, speaking through them. Good and great work make this transparent.
Overall, the cumulative truisms, epiphanies, and teenage troubles are a bit trite too. Goebel does achieve a few scattered unique phrases, but they were not the kind that would inspire me to realize, to write likewise, to reread a passage. The latter perhaps being a true test of good and great writing in my personal test of literary mettle. For if I am compelled to return and reread something for the sheer pleasure of the artful order of words, for the pleasurable redolent roll of their phonetics; if I feel as if I am reading profound and euphonic poetry instead of simple prose, of if I simply find myself reading something aloud for the second time for the sheer pleasure of how it feels upon my tongue, or for what it means and how it gleans something extra ordinary— than and only then will I believe that the writing is worth my personal praise.
Alas, the anomalies did not move me in that direction. HOWEVER, I will be passing on the book to a couple of friends who I intuit will appreciate, and perhaps even empathize with, the protagonists. Sincere praise is most difficult to earn, and a recommendation is second hardest.
Ultimately, the creative commentary coming from The Onion every week deserves much more attention than I gave this book. This weekly satirist's bible produces pure genius at times. I often find myself chuckling humbly, if only because I find myself and my hubris reflected in their pages all too often. The brilliant way in which they portray the common pretensions of me and my fellow cosmo-lites of the world is consistently fascinating. And it is redeeming, as well as comforting, that the panorama of our boring lives is appreciated, well-mocked and entertaining.
In fact, after reading The Onion this morning the contrast is clear. Goebel needs to work on "distinguishing emotion," that is, emoting a different voice for each individual character via a unique style of prose and parlance. He would learn much by reading the weekly satire (available online at www. theonoin.com), for their use of tone, lingo and wholly idiosyncratic cultural references pertinent to each character is creatively impressive. And I dare say that any fiction writer might learn from them. And no, I neither work for the paper nor know anyone on the payroll.
So, dear reader read The Onion before you read the anomalies. And Mr. Goebel, read The Onion before you write another book. For you should write another one, but with a little more attention to detail and craftsmanship this time.
In sum, this is amateur satire at best. It is no wonder that the band's small town life sucks, for if even those who taut themselves as "different" stop being original after a few pages then what hope is there for everlasting renewal? Ultimately, the trial of reading this, temporarily turned me off from making fun of mediocrity myself. I'll add, that the only redeeming episode is an incident of violence which comes at the end, which is not necessarily worth getting to if you have to plod through the rest . This final scene saves the hour only because it seems plausible, especially when juxtaposed against the trashy novel that surrounds it.
So, thus, therefore, hereto, and henceforth, if this is what it takes to be published, than I am grateful for another reason not to be. Popularity has never been so overrated and undersold. Alas, it seems fame is not mine to claim, if the price is scrutiny as unforgiving as my own.