GODFORSAKEN IDAHO. By Shawn Vestal. New Harvest. 209 pages. $15.95.
“The food is excellent. The lines are never long. There’s nothing to do with your hands.” That’s how the first short story in this book opens, titled “The First Several Hundred Years After My Death.” Just so you know what you’re in for.
Shawn Vestal reverses the faces of his comic-dramatic masks so unnervingly in these nine tales that the reader ends up pretty weirded out. Vestal is a Northwest journalist who was raised in the Mormon church. His takes on the arcane in his faith upbringing are semi-gargoylic. Neighbors and elders who pester become cold quarry. Freeloaders end up laughing off their lies or viciously planted in a dunning landlord’s stead.
Ghosts wander in and out and reality is just one in a dark hall full of mirrors.
“Diviner,” the closing tale, is as hair-raising a depiction of Mormon founder Joseph Smith as there is.
The quality of tales is a little uneven, as it is in most short story collections. But the disconcerting power of the stronger tales puts a shudder through the others. If you ever shook your head over Mormon beliefs, this collection isn’t going to steady you.
Reviewer Bo Petersen is an environmental reporter at The Post and Courier.