Reviews

Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal

It is possible that Dorothy Parker once said ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity’. Dorothy Parker was a wise woman. She also said, rather correctly, ‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.’ Indeed. That latter bit of wisdom is solely included for my amusement and your benefit (only if needed, of course). However, today’s discussion is not about Dorothy Parker. It is about curiosity, the male mind, and Godforsaken Idaho.

Idaho

Curiosity is a funny thing. It can lead you places that you never would’ve imagined – places that can entertain, bemuse, inform, and appall you (it’s parenthetically worth noting that you can insert whatever verb you feel like and I can make it work). In my case (and not once in my most fevered dreams did I envision this particular scenario), curiosity once lead me to the side of a hot, desolate Kansas highway holding a mouse and a shovel while listening to Elton John. So, yes, I am an intensely curious person. I have a need to know things – admittedly it is obnoxious and I do sometimes wish there was a cure. Because it’s an unfortunate fact that you cannot always satisfy your curiosity. As the narrator of ‘Families Are Forever!’ asks,

Couldn’t I be someone else, for once?

In my case, I’ve always been curious about what it would be like to be male. It seems so much easier, but I have no way of knowing if that’s true. And how many times have you been talking to someone and wished you knew what they were really thinking? It is probably an act of self-preservation that women don’t know what men think (and vice versa). It might possibly be frightening and most definitely embarrassing, but it would be quite illuminating.

Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho might be the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what the average hard-living, sex-obsessed, middle-aged male thinks. If Raymond Carver were alive today and had formerly been a Mormon (and enjoyed Sam Lipsyte), he might produce something like Godforsaken Idaho. The debut fiction collection features nine short stories set in a variety of locales, from a hellish vision of heaven to poolside Montana, which explore everything from the ambivalence of a directionless life to the depths of which our own actions haunt us – or don’t, depending on your outlook. ‘About as Fast as This Car Will Go’ examines the way we form our family and the way our family forms us. Initially, the narrator had no intention of being like his criminal father (never mind that he truly has no intentions to do anything) and then,

I never wanted to be a criminal until I was one. And then, for a while, I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anything else.

The story from which the collection takes its title, ‘Godforsaken Idaho’, is my favorite, if only because it contains the line,

I was a stupid child, well into adulthood.

The stories are wonderfully imaginative, if dour, tales of the downtrodden and depressed. Many of the stories have elements of dirty realism with hints of mysticism (if that’s what you’d call a reimagined hell heaven). Although Vestral left the Church of Latter Day Saints as a young adult, the stories do broach what it means to have faith and, conversely, what it means when there’s a lack thereof. They are well paced and darkly humorous and while I can’t promise you’ll necessarily enjoy them, I can promise it is an enjoyable reading experience. To best appreciate Godforsaken Idaho, check your hopeful attitude at the door. 3.5/5.

To accompany Shawn Vestral’s charming, yet crass collection of short stories, please enjoy The Ultimate Cheeseburger (replace with veggie burger as preferred) while listening to Harborcoat by R.E.M. I’m cheating here and stealing one of the songs off the author’s playlist (because I like it too), and to borrow the author’s sentiment I realize that these recommendations are, by the standards of true hipster obscurism, middle-brow and mainstream. Enjoy anyway. Add a martini as desired, keep the total below four to preserve your dignity.

BurgerAnd yes, I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. Images: 1/2

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