Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal

It is possible that Dorothy Parker once said ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity’. Dorothy Parker was a wise woman. She also said, rather correctly, ‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.’ Indeed. That latter bit of wisdom is solely included for my amusement and your benefit (only if needed, of course). However, today’s discussion is not about Dorothy Parker. It is about curiosity, the male mind, and Godforsaken Idaho.


Curiosity is a funny thing. It can lead you places that you never would’ve imagined – places that can entertain, bemuse, inform, and appall you (it’s parenthetically worth noting that you can insert whatever verb you feel like and I can make it work). In my case (and not once in my most fevered dreams did I envision this particular scenario), curiosity once lead me to the side of a hot, desolate Kansas highway holding a mouse and a shovel while listening to Elton John. So, yes, I am an intensely curious person. I have a need to know things – admittedly it is obnoxious and I do sometimes wish there was a cure. Because it’s an unfortunate fact that you cannot always satisfy your curiosity. As the narrator of ‘Families Are Forever!’ asks,

Couldn’t I be someone else, for once?

In my case, I’ve always been curious about what it would be like to be male. It seems so much easier, but I have no way of knowing if that’s true. And how many times have you been talking to someone and wished you knew what they were really thinking? It is probably an act of self-preservation that women don’t know what men think (and vice versa). It might possibly be frightening and most definitely embarrassing, but it would be quite illuminating.

Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho might be the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what the average hard-living, sex-obsessed, middle-aged male thinks. If Raymond Carver were alive today and had formerly been a Mormon (and enjoyed Sam Lipsyte), he might produce something like Godforsaken Idaho. The debut fiction collection features nine short stories set in a variety of locales, from a hellish vision of heaven to poolside Montana, which explore everything from the ambivalence of a directionless life to the depths of which our own actions haunt us – or don’t, depending on your outlook. ‘About as Fast as This Car Will Go’ examines the way we form our family and the way our family forms us. Initially, the narrator had no intention of being like his criminal father (never mind that he truly has no intentions to do anything) and then,

I never wanted to be a criminal until I was one. And then, for a while, I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anything else.

The story from which the collection takes its title, ‘Godforsaken Idaho’, is my favorite, if only because it contains the line,

I was a stupid child, well into adulthood.

The stories are wonderfully imaginative, if dour, tales of the downtrodden and depressed. Many of the stories have elements of dirty realism with hints of mysticism (if that’s what you’d call a reimagined hell heaven). Although Vestral left the Church of Latter Day Saints as a young adult, the stories do broach what it means to have faith and, conversely, what it means when there’s a lack thereof. They are well paced and darkly humorous and while I can’t promise you’ll necessarily enjoy them, I can promise it is an enjoyable reading experience. To best appreciate Godforsaken Idaho, check your hopeful attitude at the door. 3.5/5.

To accompany Shawn Vestral’s charming, yet crass collection of short stories, please enjoy The Ultimate Cheeseburger (replace with veggie burger as preferred) while listening to Harborcoat by R.E.M. I’m cheating here and stealing one of the songs off the author’s playlist (because I like it too), and to borrow the author’s sentiment I realize that these recommendations are, by the standards of true hipster obscurism, middle-brow and mainstream. Enjoy anyway. Add a martini as desired, keep the total below four to preserve your dignity.

BurgerAnd yes, I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. Images: 1/2

22 thoughts on “Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal

    1. I liked it too and felt it was very true, more so for men than women (at least the one’s I know, though most are starting to settle down now).


  1. “In my case, I’ve always been curious about what it would be like to be male. It seems so much easier”..I have always thought it would be..guys don’t have to worry about clothes and style the way we do..people expect women to dress nicely..a guy can wear a pair of jeans and have a short cropped hair do..and no one cares etc.


    1. I completely agree and generally I think men are easier on other men than women are on other women. And it is easier to look nice as a man than as a woman and the everyday standards are higher for women (on a professional scale as well). And then there’s the biological aspect…


      1. “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

        Charlotte Whitton

        BOOM! etc.

        Snaps on the Dorothy quoting – I especially like her one about Yale girls (If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end I wouldn’t be the least surprised”)


      2. Truer words and such.

        It’s not difficult, but it is annoying. I wish I could trade places with a guy for a week just to see what it would be like. I’d love to know if they have to put up with what women put up with (and I’m curious about the emotional component as well). I’m sure most of it depends of specific circumstances of individual lives and what not.

        And Dorothy Parker, I’ve mentioned my love for her a few times. If I quoted everything I liked it would probably be the size of The Portable Dorothy Parker. I find her hilarious, but very sad.


      3. In the interest of clarifying my last comment, because it doesn’t even make much sense to me (and sounds a bit egotistical)…

        I think women have to prove themselves more and our generally more open to criticism of a personal nature. I don’t actually have to put up with a lot and what I do deal with is probably a result of working with the public. Example: I had someone tell me that I would look better with a tan and should go out in the sun more (it was March and snowing). I think it’s also harder for a woman to get past a comment like that (I still cringe every time that I have to help that patron). I don’t know if things like that would happen to a male librarian.

        There, I feel better now and you likely got a more detailed response than you needed. We both win (or not, depending on how you look at it).

        Dorothy Parker has a good bit about horticulture if that happens to be field in which you work (as is my case, though probably not yours).


  2. Or maybe your chap had just finished one of those ‘how to meet and bed women for closet misogynist losers’ courses and was trying to undermine your self-esteem until you got to a point where you hated yourself enough to sleep with him.

    Does he tend to wear loud and/or attention-seeking items of clothing (peacocking)?

    Does he try to impress you with his magic or drawing skills?

    Does he have a copy of The Game in his (attention-seeking) satchel?

    Or maybe he’s just an asshole.


    1. The last bit is true. As for the rest, I don’t know. It’s certainly possible and preferable to the other option, which is that he’s right. And I must say (having not heard of it before), The Game (book, I’m assuming) sounds fascinating – insulting someone into a relationship is an interesting approach.


      1. Okay, but, pulling chicks is an increasingly valid form of profession. Most of the feminine procurement methods advised do have mocking, but not necessarily in misogynistic undertones.

        It’s possible that I am stuck in the ’90’s, but Clueless is the first thing I think of every time I hear misogynistic (quote altered to fit my point, not that I have one).


      2. , and in the clipped tones of a minor royal I said:

        “well actually profanity, what some erroneously refer to as the vernacular, is considered an increasingly valid form of self-expression, in part because ubiquity draws the sting and reduces the power of the words to shock.”

        It’s one of many regrets of mine that I didn’t follow up by taking a swig of my drink and saying “…so fuck off.”

        I heart Clueless.

        “Cher what the hell is that?”
        “It’s a dress, daddy…”
        “Says who?”
        “um…Calvin Klein?”


  3. What happened there?!

    The first part of the above was about how I stole the gist of that Clueless quote a few years back when an elderly gentleman told me that my opinions were invalid (not wrong, not a matter of opinion but lacking in logical validity and thereby any genuine force). He then went off on one about swearing being the sign of a limited vocabulary and that people who weren’t offended by it were themselves limited in both brains and vocabulary.


    1. That was a very valid response and better than anything I could’ve come up with (for which I applaud you, though it would’ve been ideal if you could’ve added the fuck off).

      Swearing isn’t a sign of limited vocabulary, depending on its use, it can be a sign of an extensively creative vocabulary. And thanks to Clueless, I still can’t park (it’s probably not wise to quote a film to defend my failings, but it rarely stops me).

      “You want to practice parking?”
      “What’s the point? Everywhere you go has valet.”


      1. Hey James Bond, in this country we drive on the right side of the road.

        Paul Rudd still looks the same age now as he did back in ’94. There must be a Dorian Grey-style portrait somewhere.


      2. Stacey Dash and Donald Faison too, it really defies the natural aging process.

        It also highlights that as much as things change, there really mostly stay the same.

        So okay, I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some skinny jeans and take their greasy hair – ew – and cover it up with a beanie and like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so.


      3. I want to do something for humanity.
        How about sterilization?

        That one’s kind of mean, but I could still think of a lot of people I’d like to say it too.


      4. Um, I actually thought that was true (and I thought Tony Curtis made a movie call Sporadicus until I was 18 or so).

        She’s my friend because we both know what it’s like for people to be jealous of us.


      5. You win.

        Oh wait, no you don’t:

        “My plastic surgeon says I can’t expose myself to any activity where balls fly at my nose…”
        “Well there goes your social life”


      6. I’ll allow you to win, mostly because I like that last one (and I’d otherwise be forced to bring up ‘Wow, you guys talk like grown ups’, although that does bring it full circle…)


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