Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (Catapult 2020)
Reviewed by Megan L Stills
Everyone in Peaches, California is thirsty. The once-abundant land that the Gifts of the Spirit cult watches over is now nothing more than crackling, scorched earth. Baptism occurs in tubs of warm soda, the shallow end of the measures taken by The Body to bring life back to their raisin crops. But fourteen-year-old Lacey May Herd is thirsty for more than just the rains that Pastor Vern promises will pour down on those who are faithful. Within this world where young boys are messengers of god and girls are their vessels, emerges a story of birth and rebirth.
Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel, Godshot, is a coming of age, bildungsroman tale of one girl’s search for truth and power in unexpected places. For Lacey, Peaches was the sanctuary away from the men that her mother brought home, where she and her mother could live together under the watchful, all-seeing eye of Pastor Vern. When her mother is lured away from Peaches by a cowboy with loaded promises, Lacey is left in the hands of her taxidermy-loving grandmother. With the feelings of “motherloss” growing day by day, Lacey begins to see the holes in the so-called edenic commune of Peaches.
Godshot presents a potent contrast between men and women through these highly-charged landscapes of the Gifts of the Spirit cult and the red house of call-girl women known as the Diviners. In one realm, she finds herself in the grasp of desperate spirituality and blind devotion to Pastor Vern. Gold glitter and feathers fall from the sky, and no one has forgotten the miracle of growth Vern once brought to the valley. But this world is one of male domination, which Lacey finds herself a victim to again and again.
Bieker creates two starkly different spaces that Lacey must reckon with; that of what she’s always known, and the pull she feels towards the red house at the end of the road and the enticing world it represents. As Lacey begins to move further and further away from this poisonous cycle of desperate religiosity and stringent ideas of womanhood, Lacey is welcomed into the warmth of female friendship and guidance. Lacey May recognizes this herself, where “Woman’s needs had never been mentioned in the church…and I lapped up any sign of them by instinct like a long-starved wolf” (55). These call-girls gift Lacey with notions otherwise unknown, from exploring one’s sexuality to inverting the power that men enact on women. In reassigning values upon these so-called “sinners,” Bieker creates a powerful connection of womanhood.
In Godshot Lacey May finds lessons in any place she can, be it romance novels or sex workers. Bieker invites the reader to recognize the feminine power of these largely-overlooked places. Lacey’s journey from one life to another, completely new one (both figuratively and literally) creates a sense of feminine agency out of nothing. In doing so, Bieker succeeds at creating a powerful novel about one girl’s fight for individuality and understanding the inner self.
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