When Pastor Vern and the Gifts of the Spirit Church bring rain to Peaches, the drought-stricken townsfolk can’t embrace their saviours fast enough. But, as the drought drags on, and her mother is banished, fourteen year old Lacey May begins to question her role in the church that holds such a grip on the Californian town.
Emerging adolescence meets a staggering loss of innocence, as the teenager embarks on a covert quest to find her mother. Giving her purpose beyond what the Gifts of the Spirit have planned for her, Chelsea Bieker‘s Godshot takes Lacey May from the eccentric fanaticism of her grandmother Cherry and the “God glitter” of Vern, to the worldly women that live and work on the outskirts of town, and were – intentionally or otherwise – her mother’s unexpected way out.
Godshot is the debut novel from Bieker, and it’s assured, confident and beautifully written. What might come across as some kind of an escape thriller is, actually, a compelling but deeply unsettling examination of god complexes, religious patriarchy, poverty, and loneliness. And while anything involving a religious cult is likely to lean a little on the grim side, there’s a clever wit cutting through Godshot‘s darkness; and a sense of humour as dry as Peaches itself.
That’s due in no small part to Bieker’s lead, the exquisitely crafted Lacey May. Observant, resilient, yet bound by the restrictions of both her church and the world at large, she’s a fascinating narrator. There’s a curious ambivalence to her that speaks to a lost childhood, whether denied her by the church or presented to her by her changing body. Lacey May questions, but can’t quite get past the adults in her way, and so moves on and explores something else. She sees – and occasionally exploits – the flaws of Vern and his followers, yet still can’t break the habit of asking those outside to join the Gifts of the Spirit. Naïvely, it seems, she believes Vern might actually save Peaches – or, at least, she’s willing to hedge her bets until she finds her mother.
Starting slow and relishing in the building of scenery and memorable character alike, Godshot sets readers up to run the emotional gamut. Bieker knows how to land a literary gut punch, and it’s usually at the moments when you remember just how young Lacey May is. The end result is a read that is far from easy, but still utterly engrossing.