by Joey Goebel
Published by MacAdam/Cage
205 pages, 2004
The Band of Life
Reviewed by Chris Gsell
Warning -- picking up The Anomalies by Joey Goebel may make you realize that you are nothing more than a product of the world around you: a complete and utterly unoriginal human being. Written with a satirical look at our culture today, Goebel has written a surprisingly funny novel about five unlikely friends trying to make it big as a rock and roll band.
The story is simple enough: five friends living in a drab, stereotypical Midwestern town, who are trying to start a rock and roll band. It doesn't matter that they have only practiced five times in five months. It doesn't matter that their bass player, Ember, has a hard time holding the bass guitar (she's only nine). Or that Opal, their lead guitarist is 80. Or that their middle-aged keyboardist, Ray, speaks broken English. Or that the drummer, Aurora, could be a model if she wanted to, but instead is a Satanist. Or that their lead singer, Luster, is full of grandiose thoughts. None of that plays a part in this quirky tale, so wipe away your preconceived prejudices. They are here to shatter your deeply rooted stereotypes. And they succeed.
Luster comes from a large family and has 16 brothers. His older brothers are drug dealers who have cornered the market not only in their own ghetto, but also in the more upper class sections of town. Luster wants nothing more than to break free from this dead-end life and launch the greatest rock and roll band the world has ever seen.
Ember, their nine year old band member, is filled with a bottomless pit of rage and loathing for everything around her. In my opinion, the least believable character. Her swearing and opinions on her family, school and life are a little too far fetched. She doesn't come off sounding like a problem child, she sounds like a curmudgeonly old man.
Ember's baby-sitter, Opal, has an insatiable lust for men. Younger men. And she succeeds. Her appetite for the opposite sex would put a 17-year-old boy to shame.
The keyboardist, Ray, has uprooted his entire family from Iraq. Often mistaken for a gay man by the way he dresses (which he thinks is 100 per cent American), Ray is in search of the man that he wounded in the Gulf War. Not to finish the job, but to ask for an apology.
And finally there is the beautiful Aurora. The drop dead gorgeous drummer is sick of being appreciated for her good looks. Her recent obsession with Satanism and the fact that she is in a wheelchair do nothing to deter men of all ages from desperately trying to get her attention.
As the reader will pick up quickly, it is Luster's voice that carries the main theme of the book; that it is all too easy to slip into our comfortable roles as human beings, never making a wave in a vast and boring sea that is called Ordinary. According to Luster, it takes disgust for the complacent and a determined will to free one's mind to truly become an individual. These five friends live and breathe that determination every minute of their lives. It's this bond that ties them together and makes them the closest of friends.
Goebel's portrayal of Luster is filled with pure energy. An energy that does not concede anything to anyone. Luster is the king of his own universe: a world in which he is much happier than our own. However, Luster is here to guide us lonely "humanoids" to salvation. Here stands this wildly eccentric lead singer that can size up a complete stranger in a matter of seconds, often beating them to the punch in their own comebacks. A modern day mix of Elvis with a healthy dose of (enter your religious icon here). He's not afraid to rock our world until the lights burn out. And he has all the confidence in the world that he can do it.
Besides his uncharacteristic cast of these five main characters, Goebel switches the point of view to many minor characters in the novel, characters that would be fillers in any other book of this nature (if there is a book of this nature, which I doubt). So while we read about the events unfolding from Luster's point of view while the fivesome are hanging out in the local diner, Goebel will switch to the point of view of their waitress who just got a look at this unlikely bunch.
This technique works beautifully as the reader is able to fully comprehend the entire scene as it unfolds. As the viewpoints change from Luster to Opal to Ray to the hostess to the waitress to a customer, you get an entire mix of thoughts and feelings that paint a perfect, complete picture. You get an even better look at Luster, Ember, Opal, Ray and Aurora.
It's not until the band actually lands their first gig and hangs out more do we learn how these five friends met. Told to Ember as bedside stories, the pieces fall together in a not too unbelievable way. As I read about their first meetings and the circumstances behind them, I started to think back on various parts of the story that started to come together for me. Here, Goebel does a great job of tying things up in a realistic way.
The Anomalies is just that: an anomaly of a book, but in a good way. A different type of book comprised of a diverse cast of characters. 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. | October 2004
Chris Gsell lives in South Jersey. By day he works for an ad agency, at night he enjoys reading and writing about books.