By Chelsea Bieker
Catapult Books (March 30, 2021)
$16.95, 336 pages
Godshot is a gripping coming-of-age story in which 14-year-old Lacey May attempts to make sense of the constrained world in which she lives. Peaches is a tiny raisin farming town outside of Fresno that is crumbling after a long drought, but Lacey’s alcoholic mother Louise has found hope in Gifts of the Spirit church and Pastor Vern, who once made it rain and has since been viewed as Peaches’ savior by his congregation. Members have been given secret “assignments” to perform as part of Pastor Vern’s plan to bring more rain, end the drought, and revive Peaches.
Godshot’s opening lines sound a foreboding note. “To have an assignment, Pastor Vern said, you had to be a woman of blood. You had to be a man of deep voice and Adam’s apple. And you should never reveal your assignment to another soul, for assignments were a holy bargaining between you and your pastor and God Himself.”
Before long, Louise has run off with a man they call the Turquoise Cowboy and cut off all contact with Lacey, who moves in with her grandmother, Cherry, a GOTS true believer. Over the course of the book, we follow Lacey as she cleaves to her domineering pastor and church, eventually receives her assignment, and attempts to find her mother. She turns to her mother’s secret stash of romance novels to learn about men, love, and sex. And she befriends Daisy, the owner of The Diviners: A Lady on the Line, “the most unholy sin of sins in Peaches. It was a phone sex business housed in a leaning red Victorian mansion filled with pale witches no one ever saw come or go. They were the unreachables.” Daisy will become a surrogate mother to Lacey and help her in unexpected ways.
Lacey’s naivete is slowly replaced by the knowledge she gains in her quest for spiritual fulfillment and maternal reunification. The propulsive plot shines a light into the dark corners of a religious fundamentalism that rises to the level of a patriarchal cult, as well as the many other ways men abuse and degrade women under the guise of saving them.
Central to Godshot is a probing exploration of varying forms of motherhood and parenting. With help from surprising places and a fierce determination to save herself, Lacey finds a path to a new self and a promising future.
Chelsea Bieker writes beautifully about the austere geography of the Central Valley and the hard people who struggle to survive where the supply of water can be unpredictable. The rich soil will grow virtually anything if you just add water. And Bieker knows well the Holy Roller fundamentalism that thrives in the Valley – dominated as it is by the descendants of Okies who came west in the Dust Bowl era — in countless small, unaffiliated churches with names like Truth Church and Jesus Saves Church.
Godshot grabs you by the throat and tightens its grip chapter by chapter. Compellingly complex characters, a powder keg of a plot, and prose that alternates between gritty and lyrical make for an intense and haunting reading experience.