"Daredevils" By Shawn Vestal On Monday's Access Utah
At the heart of Shawn Vestal's debut novel "Daredevils," set in Arizona and Idaho in the mid-1970s, is fifteen-year-old Loretta, who slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her so-called gentile boyfriend. Her strict Mormon fundamentalist parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and a brood of kids.
The Harders relocate to his native Idaho, where Dean's teenage nephew Jason falls hard for Loretta. A Zeppelin and Tolkien fan, Jason worships Evel Knievel and longs to leave his close-minded community. He and Loretta make a break for it. They drive all night, stay in hotels, and relish their dizzying burst of teenage freedom as they seek to recover Dean's cache of "Mormon gold." But someone Loretta left behind is on their trail...
A story of desire and escape, Daredevils features an interesting cast of secondary characters: Dean's other wife, Ruth, who as a child in the 1950s was separated from her parents during the Short Creek raid, when federal agents descended on a Mormon fundamentalist community; Jason's best friend, Boyd, part Native American and caught up in the activist spirit of the time, who comes along for the ride, with disastrous results; and a superbly sleazy chatterbox-a man who might or might not be Evel Knievel himself-who works his charms on Loretta at a casino in Elko, Nevada.
Shawn Vestal is winner of 2014's PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize. He is a lifelong journalist whose Spokesman column is a fixture in Spokane, WA, Vestal's fiction has appeared in journals like McSweeney's and Tin House. His first collection, "Godforsaken Idaho," burrowed into history as it engaged with masculinity and crime, faith and apostasy, and the West that he knows so well.