A provocative and revelatory debut, filled with stories about losing faith and trying (often in vain) to find purpose, mainly set amid the sparsely populated Mormon country of the rugged Northwest.
Raised a Mormon and now a columnist in Spokane, Vestal combines formal invention and spiritual depth—even when those depths are dry with spiritual estrangement—in nine stories that establish a unique vision. All but one of these stories has a first-person male narrator, generally one who is struggling with faith or has fallen from it, often one who is drifting without direction. When the all-but-destitute loner narrating the title story says that “[t]he vistas were wide, wide open, like the view from the middle of the ocean,” what he sees as promise strikes the reader as more like emptiness. Broken families, abandoned by the father, fill these stories as well. Two of the narrators are dead; one is in the afterlife (where “the food is excellent....You eat from your own life only. You order from memory, as best you can”), another’s spirit somehow coexists within the consciousness of a young Mormon veteran, returned from World War I, driven mad by his sinful memories. God is mostly invoked in these stories through his absence. “I have tried again to pray,” writes a man, fallen from faith in the early 1800s, following the death of his wife. “Five months since Elizabeth has gone, and I remain unable to find the language....I fear for my soul, for I am angry at Him, and He is silent.” Yet hell is very real, often a hell of the narrator’s own making, with sin central to the human condition. In “Families Are Forever!” (a title that is more threat than promise), a compulsive liar and his girlfriend visit her Mormon parents (with whom she feels tension complicated by faith). “[S]omething about it made me want to change myself entirely,” he says, but he sees through the eyes of her father that “he knew all he needed to know about me—that I was false in my bones.” And he asks, like others in these stories might, “Couldn’t I be someone else, for once?”
Plainspoken stories filled with profound ambivalence and occasional flickers of redemption.