The premise of Goebel's latest venture is inherently strange. Torture the Artist (MacAdam/Cage, 2004) follows "the age-old idea that true art can only result from suffering. When experimental Hollywood organization New Renaissance hires ex-musician Harlan Eiffler to secretly torture its most promising prodigy, Vincent Spinetti, Vincent endures depression, unrequited love, and illness, all for the sake of producing great art." The preceding quotation was lifted from the back of the book and unlike most novel summaries which tend to be ambiguous at best this one is spot-on. What it doesn't tell you is that as media mogul Foster Lipowitz neared death, he became appalled by the brainlessness found in the media (movies, music, television, et cetera), and in fact, he had actually capitalized on it to make his fortune. That's where Harlan and Vincent come in.

The novel itself is over 250 pages. Each chapter title features a woman's name, and that alone serves as a point of mystery and intrigue. For instance, you'll want to find out who Rachel is in chapter one, as well as who Veronica is of chapter two fame, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, there's a host of numbers swirling around within Torture the Artist. Not only does the reader receive three parts comprised of twelve chapters, but also the sections are divided by ascending numerals. A recurring symbol, used in place of the latter, would've eased things considerably. Aside from the structure, though, the content is obviously where Goebel shines. Often he combines tension, conflict, and humor in the same scenes without slowing the pace of the story. The budding friendship between Harlan and Vincent is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the book, in spite of the despicable Orwellian elements used by Harlan. In concordance with the plot, Harlan orchestrates many of the plagues that riddle Vincent's life, though disliking Harlan is made more difficult since the story unfolds through his first-person perspective. To make matters worse, Vincent even assumes the role of a Christ figure insomuch that he's the one suffering for the greater good of the whole populace.

Like I said earlier, Goebel's humor is both relevant and funny. The sections where he explains the shallowness of the radio to corporate suits are stunningly accurate and just downright entertaining. During his cycling through radio stations he says, "Listen to that prissy melody. There's nothing interesting about it. It's weak. It's not the least bit catchy. And I've seen these guys on MTV. They're not even that good-looking. In fact, they're kind of homely ... And listen to the instrumentation. It sounds like a child playing a Casio keyboard ... Ahh, Led Zeppelin. Classic rock stations have decades of music at their fingertips, yet they only play about four different bands. At least they've played Ozzy more ever since he got a TV show ... McDonald's commercial." Arguably, however, the funniest parts of Torture the Artist occur when Vincent tries his hand at satire, and overwhelmingly succeeds. Upon Vincent's pitch of a remake of The Wizard of Oz, entitled The New Wizard of Oz, "the movie trailer began with the following voice-over: 'In a world where all movie trailers begin with the phrase 'in a world,' it is possible for even the most sacred and beloved of our cultural institutions to be rediscovered and made into ONE KICK-ASS MOVIE, BITCH!!!' Then the trailer shows a car exploding, followed by the Oz cast dancing in a pornographic manner on the Yellow Brick Road. Every few seconds, one of Dorothy's [Meg Ryan] passionate love scenes is shown. Close-ups of her cleavage appear subliminally."

Of course, everything goes awry at some point, and the main characters are forced to choose between options that will alter their futures considerably. Close to the end, it seems like Goebel is going to opt for the easy way out by having all the characters get along, and rise above the situation. But then Torture the Artist suddenly dashes all expectations against the rocks, employing an ending that is both whimsical and staggeringly knowledgeable about the methods that other books have utilized in the past. No, Goebel doesn't settle for the traditional happy ending, nor does he resort to using a sad one. In short: it's apt, fitting, suitable, and appropriate any other would've been unwarranted. At any rate, if one overlooks the few miniscule shortcomings, the sophomore effort from this Kentuckian is the best book I've read in a long time. There are numerous things to like here, and I suggest you commence looking for them.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the BEAN STREET READING SERIES. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in THE EDWARD SOCIETY and THE2NDHAND. In the Fall of 2005, he went on a seven-week book tour promoting his forthcoming novel, Powering The Devil's Circus. He is a writer.