We’ve all seen them: people with charismatic personalities who seem to brighten a room. When they speak, we listen. In Peaches, California, that man is Pastor Vern, who leads Gifts of the Spirit Church—and the shine is often literal. When Vern wants to bring his congregants to a spiritual climax, golden glitter falls from the church’s rafters.
In the eyes of his congregation, Vern often has just cause to call down god glitter, but the rest of Peaches’ residents mock the churchgoers for their blind obedience to a man who claims he’ll save their parched land. Fourteen-year-old Lacey May often faces that ridicule at school, but within the church, she and the other girls who recently became “women of blood” stand in a place of honor.
Lacey May doesn’t remember the days before Peaches’ drought. She hadn’t been born yet when Pastor Vern first called down the rains that made the congregation devote itself to him. She follows this faith because the people who love her do, and because she’s heard the stories of what life could be without Vern and without his church.
Some novels tackle issues with a light hand, drawing the reader into a fun story even as the author tackles difficult topics. Godshot takes another approach. Debut novelist Chelsea Bieker leans into her story’s heft. It’s a deeply affecting picture of a megalomaniac who treats his congregation as his puppets. It’s a portrayal of what can happen when people are so hungry for hope that they abandon reason. It shows a world where women’s bodies are not their own, where one man has the authority to determine what happens to those bodies.
It’s a heightened portrait, but Godshot is a story that parallels some of the challenges faced in the United States today. Bieker, a native Californian, has already established her voice with bylines in McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Catapult magazine and others. Her debut novel, though, is a shout to the world: I’m here. I have something to say. And I can capture your imagination as I do it.