At the heart of this exciting debut novel, 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 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 riveting story of desire and escape, Daredevils boasts memorable set pieces and a rich cast of secondary characters. There’s Dean’s other wife, Ruth, who as a child in the 1950s was separated from her parents during the notorious Short Creek raid, when federal agents descended on a Mormon fundamentalist community. There’s 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 Vestal’s ultimate creation is 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.
A lifelong journalist whose Spokesman column is a fixture in Spokane, WA, Shawn has honed his fiction over many years, publishing in journals like McSweeney’s and Tin House. His stunning 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. Daredevils shows what he can do on a broader canvas–a fascinating, wide-angle portrait of a time and place that’s both a classic coming of age tale and a plunge into the myths of America, sacred and profane.
Novelist Caroline Leavitt calls Daredevils “ingenious, haunting, wild, and hilarious” in the San Francisco Chronicle
The Christian Science Monitor says Daredevils “soars.”
Author Ryan McIlvain, in the Los Angeles Review of Books: “Vestal’s prose is wonderfully measured and cadenced throughout, with an unforced lyricism that knows just when to take flight.”
Vestal sends his characters soaring across the gulf that separates the identity that confines them and the identity they would choose, letting them land roughly but firmly on the other side, broken but free.
—Barnes & Noble Review
“Vestal depicts the wild, youth-fueled road trip you always you wish you’d taken, all set under the starry banner of the West in the dusty 1970s.”
“Daredevils is a feat, the literary equivalent of jumping the Snake River Canyon.”
“This debut novel captures the flailings and flights of hapless dreamers with prose that throbs like the strings of an electric bass playing its sad heart out in a near-desolate landscape.”
–Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Shawn Vestal’s seductive Daredevils is part American Dream and part American Gothic. Gold, lust, cults, polygamy, broken bones, broken hearts, and the yearning for a possibly fatal freedom drive this book, which shares a few features with its character of Evel Knievel: it is lean, fierce, and dangerous. Read it with care.”
— Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer
“Shawn Vestal jumps forty buses in Daredevils, an electrifying debut novel that travels some dark roads of American religion and bravado, propelled by a major new voice in fiction.”
— Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
“Shawn Vestal’s Daredevils busts open any expectations of a coming-of-age novel and transforms it into something fresh, vital and wild. And with Loretta, he has given us one of the most moving young protagonists in recent memory. Few writers have captured the hard, radiant edges of adolescent transformation, nor wielded popular culture to such precise and potent effect. Don’t miss this stunner of a debut.”
— Megan Abbott, author of The Fever and Dare Me
“Relentlessly enjoyable, surprising, inventive, and just plain heartwarming…Daredevils is a bona fide marvel that pairs two American originals: the complex human drama of Mormonism and the bigger-than-life bravura of 1970s icon Evel Knievel. What takes more courage – a motorized leap across a canyon or a young girl’s first few steps toward independence and a life on her own terms? I couldn’t put it down as I cheered on Loretta until the very last page. A real wonder.”
— Scott Cheshire, author of High as the Horses’ Bridles
“A speeding stunt bike of a novel, propulsive and daring. Vestal’s prose feels born of the southern Idaho landscape, as fleet and muscular as the jackrabbits swarming the desert floor…The characters’ desires and aches—for love, for glory, for freedom—strain within their confines and burst off of the page. A lucid, bright gem.”
— Sharma Shields, author of The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac
“A daring, ambitious adventure, the landscape of this book is like the American West – expansive and layered in history. This is a book about faith, both personal and communal, of being lost and being found again. Vestal’s gaze on religion, 1970s America, and on growing up offers a vision of how place and belief shape us. In Loretta, you see a character yearning to leap, but not always knowing where she wants to land. Vestal as a storyteller writes as clearly as a trail leading West, the words leaving impressions like wagon ruts. Beautiful, and at times, heartbreaking, this book will knock you out. Daredevils is moving and tender, with redemption being almost enigmatic, across a chasm that seems impossible at times to jump.”
— Nina McConigley, author of Cowboys and East Indians