Godforsaken Idaho

Winner of the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

Shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing

Named “Outstanding 2013 Collection” by The Story Prize

Pushcart Prize Winner

In this stunning debut, Shawn Vestal transports us to the afterlife, the rugged Northwest, and the early days of Mormonism. From “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death,” an absurd, profound vision of a hellish heaven, to “Winter Elders,” in which missionaries calmly and relentlessly pursue a man who has left the fold, these nine stories illuminate the articles of faith that make us human.

The concluding triptych tackles the legends and legacy of Mormonism head-on, culminating in “Diviner,” a seriocomic portrait of the young Joseph Smith, back when he was not yet the founder of a religion but a man hired to find buried treasure. Godforsaken Idaho is an indelible collection by the writer you need to read next.


“[A] slam-dunk debut.”
—O Magazine

“Not only is each story brilliantly constructed, but the collection as a whole is an architectural masterpiece…They’re written smartly…there’s utter brilliance…It’s terrific fiction. Vestal seems to be a writer we can trust to wake us up gorgeously to a certain angry reason, a certain subversive truth.”
—Association for Mormon Letters

“[A] darkly provocative story collection. Throughout these well-crafted stories, Vestal’s prose captures the gritty poignancy of western life.”
—Seattle Times

“From lustful country boys who plot against the tiny dogs carried around by beautiful out-of-town women (lapdogs, the narrator explains, are “wrong” because they make “us feel defensive about our whole lives”) to two Mormons out to bring a sinner back into the fold, Vestal cracks open the dry, dusty ground and lets the weirdness spill out. It’s savage and apocalyptic and endlessly funny.”
—The Stranger

“Vestal’s anti-heroes may be rascals and lost causes, but they have a canny insight, humor and wisdom that I found irresistible.”
—The Oregonian

“I cracked open the collection by Shawn Vestal and found a short story called ‘Winter Elders,’ which grabbed me from the opening line: “They materialized with the first snow.”…This is a tale of missionary work from the perspective of the target. And it is a dark tale. It’s also psychologically astute and elegantly written, like much of Vestal’s book.”
—David Haglund, Slate

“[Godforsaken Idaho] lies somewhere between the classically chiseled narratives of Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, the satiristic imagination of George Saunders, and the comic stylings of The Book of Mormon. Vestal’s dark, often very funny, and deeply probing stories have one foot in God-fearing Mormon country and another in godforsaken characters-at-the-end-of-their-rope realism.”
—Rebecca Bengal, Vogue

“These are smart, ambitious stories that bravely barrel into unwinnable arguments…Thoughtful and cleverly crafted.”
—Billings Gazette

“Diviner, the closing tale, is as hair-raising a depiction of Mormon founder Joseph Smith as there is.”
—Charleston Post and Courier

“Brilliant in its world-building.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Full of believable and complex characters.”

“A provocative and revelatory debut.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Godforsaken Idaho is weirdly and wildly funny, a blistering set from a writer with a far-reaching range.”
—LA Review of Books

“Shutter your windows—Godforsaken Idaho is an awesome storm of history, grit, and revelatory imagination. These stories take huge risks and simply do not falter. Shawn Vestal has set out to reimagine the American West, and he’s done so with the soulful, single-minded purpose of a half-mad pioneer.”
—Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River and The Cradle

“Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho is a wickedly funny, surprisingly profound collection. These nine stories of prophets and parents, of doppelgangers and pocket dogs, form a thrilling introduction to one of the wryest, most inventive new voices in fiction.”
—Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

“Godforsaken Idaho mixes the hardpan realism of Richard Ford’s Rock Springs with the dreadful wonder of Dan Chaon’s best stories. In the lyrical beauty of his sentences, in the brutal choices his characters must make, and in the heartbreaking landscape itself, Shawn Vestal finds startling moments of grace and unexpected redemption.”
—Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men

“Shawn Vestal’s short story collection Godforsaken Idaho is violent, full of dreamy ache. Whether it is celestial beings, father-son criminal duos, or murderous missionaries, Vestal draws vulnerable, beautifully bruised yet resilient characters.”

“Provocative, gritty, and highly imaginative, the stories in Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho form an impressive debut collection.”
—Largehearted Boy

“The stories in Godforsaken Idaho are sprightful and imaginative, quirky, at times odd, employing a modern register that places them firmly within the canon of contemporary American literary fiction.”