Review: The Goners by Mark Gluth kiddiepunk press, 2015
1. Mark Gluth’s The Goners opens with a story that reads like a prose poem. I reread it three times, to feel the rhythms and to grasp at what was happening. Along with the narrator I was reaching through a deep dark forest to see the story. Gluth writes,
“I wrenched my ankle on the spotty soil. I slammed my head when I fell. Sparks like stars shot my gaze. There was no line then that could separate anything from anything else. There was no way then that I could see you throw yourself from the ladder because there was no way I could see you on it.”
2. The stories, which are interconnected, describe the lives of young people who are it seems, destined, not to escape youth. They are essentially goners. One by one they are lost.
3. The most important and the most tragic part of these stories is that the characters are lost to each other. Before they are able to fall in love and run away they vanish into the forests that surround them.
4. The characters are close to you as you read and appear to be people you have met before and this is achieved largely through their simple speech, their quick conversations and their terse fuck yous.
5. Gluth’s writing is decidedly alternative in form and it is this form that makes the stories work so well. There is a progression within the stories; the kids involved in each tale slowly come into worse and worse situations and time passes, they grow older. The first story features kids trying to buy beer outside of a convenience store; towards the end some of the same kids are doing heroin in a motel room.
6. In the second story, when the character Lucy’s desires are described you feel for her, because her idea of normal is so normal and also so painful,
“She just wanted to be able to feel good and get happy by getting drunk and doing drugs like a normal person.”
7. As I read these stories I was reminded over and over again how normal these situations are. I was suddenly back outside of the gas station in my hometown trying to get one of the seniors from the high school to by me a pack of cigarettes. I was once again drunk in the woods.
8. Taken as a group of stories The Goners is a bildungsroman for the hopeless.
9. These aren’t the kind of hopeless characters you can see on television making fools of themselves. They are too pure in their desires. But they give something to American fiction that we don’t have enough of: people who are constantly down on their luck and don’t find redemption. People who continue to make mistakes and fumble and fall and show themselves to be human, and yet, not idiots.
10. Again from the second story:
“Lucy’s foot slipped, she tripped. Andi stumbled from when Lucy fell into her. There were railroad ties set into the path that they sat on. Andi got up. She said she saw something but Lucy didn’t see what she said she saw. Drunk and thirsty, she stood and swigged. Cattails were the edge of a pond. Moss covered fallen logs.”
The girls are drunk and getting into trouble but the narrator also draws our attention to the nature around them. It makes me think the two girls also notice that nature and that they haven’t lost sight of something of who they are.
11. The stories are written in short blocks of text. They mimic the short sentences and fragments that fill them. They resemble both poems and newspaper columns: announcements. Gluth takes the notion from William Carlos Williams poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”
It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
and turns it into a piece of narrative that reaches well beyond genre categorization.
12. Gluth is giving us the news with these stories. In the best way.
13. It may be helpful to listen to this album while reading as I did. Earth is from Washington, the same state as Mark Gluth. Like the stories it is dark and spiritual, like a ritual.
14. Reading these stories and listening to this music both leave me with the feeling of cold rain and dirt caked on my skin. You can run home but even a hot shower cannot get the damp, raw feeling out.
15. I read on Dennis Cooper’s blog in an interview with Mark Gluth that the photos that accompany the text were a last minute decision on the part Michael Salerno, the publisher. They were an excellent decision. They add to the confused and blurry feeling of the book. They are a little bit eroded. Like the stories. Like the characters.
16. The characters keep losing each other and it is heartbreaking. Loss is a part of growing up but in this case it is unjust to this group of people. When one character dies,
“The phone calls cascaded like the words were water.”
Over and over again the same condolences; they are just like a waterfall. Or a faucet you can’t turn off.
17. This sadness about loss is also joined with the rage and anger that accompany it but it only leads to more loss. There is a short video on Mark Gluth’s blog that helps to get in the mood for this as well.
18. Towards the end of the book Gluth writes,
“What he means to say is that drugs and music and having sex whilst on drugs and listening to music are just decorations on your brain which is infinite and totally blissful regardless of these ornaments. He stutters into another sentence, stops. So does the music. Silence means everything at this moment because it’s the only thing.”
19. It is this reaching towards infinity without sex or drugs that the characters cannot manage. But very few of us can. Reading The Goners allows for time with the most difficult and painful parts of ourselves.
20. These stories are exciting both because of their form and their content. In What is the Contemporary? Giorgio Agamben writes:
“Darkness is something that more than any light-turns directly and singularly to ward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.”
21. The contemporary nature of these stories is often found in the what is at first read awkward syntax of some of the sentences. This is the reason why I read and reread.
22. In the beginning of the book as two young boys run,
“Andy’s shoe soles slapped the cement as he gave chase to them.”
Everything seems inverted, the shoes are in control. Sentences like this are beautiful and harsh; the slap of sneakers on the ground couldn’t be louder.
23. By the time we arrive at the story titled only as “C” it is clear that this disjointed language is serving a purpose in these characters’ disjointed lives.
“He jams the shovel blade into the ground, unwraps the girl from the bed sheets, and takes off her clothes. He nudges her with his foot until the nudges become kicks. She falls into the pit he’s created, then disappears beneath an avalanche of soil he instigates with the flat back of his shovel. The light showing on his face as the sounds of footfalls coming through the forest increase is from stars, or maybe it’s just something that he imagines.”
24. The characters are swallowed up or lifted past the forest and the earth, it happens too quickly to have a definitive answer.
25. Mark Gluth is true to the notion Agamben’s contemporary: not blinded by lights of his time but leading us unnervingly into the darkness.