Episode # 35

A Novel

Shawn Vestal

From the winner of 2014’s PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize, an unforgettable debut novel about Loretta, a teenager married off as a “sister wife,” who makes a break for freedom. Read More »


On Sale Date:


Penguin Press
320 pgs.
Penguin Press


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Daredevils is the thrilling new book by Shawn Vestal, who won last year’s PEN Bingham prize for his story collection, Godforsaken Idaho.

At the heart of this exciting novel, set in Arizona and Idaho in the mid-70s, is fifteen-year-old Loretta, who slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet a so-called gentile. 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. Then Dean’s teenage nephew, Jason, falls 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. And Vestal’s ultimate creation is a superbly sleazy chatterbox who works his charms on Loretta, at a casino in Elko, Nevada—a man who might or might not be Evel Knievel himself.

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.

Praise for Daredevils

“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.

Shawn Vestal made his literary debut with Godforsaken Idaho, a story collection that won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and was shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize. A graduate of the Eastern Washington University MFA program, his stories have appeared in Tin House, Ecotone, McSweeney’s, The Southern Review and other journals. He writes a column for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife and son.