An explosive literary debut about a young woman coming into her own power in the face of religious extremism, addiction, sexual abuse, and abandonment, Godshot is an unforgettable novel of resilience, poverty, womanhood, and strength found where you least expect it
Godshot is propulsive and heart-breaking and bursting with sentences to slay you, to make you gasp with how Chelsea Bieker renders detail. Bieker is a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist. Her fiction has echoes of Claire Vaye Watkins and Lauren Groff, Marilynne Robinson and Cormac McCarthy, and yet her voice is so entirely her own.
Godshot effortlessly explores the repression of female sexuality, motherhood (and motherloss), climate change, poverty, and the controlling power of cult mentality through the world of Lacey May, our indelible 14-year-old protagonist growing up in the dried-up town of Peaches, CA.
Lacey May has only known two things: her life before Pastor Vern made the rain come to Peaches, and her life after, and her life before was far worse. But when at 14 she receives her “assignment” from the Church, along with all the other newly fertile young women of the congregation, she finally begins to question whether the glitter raining down in church is really from the heavens, or from the hand of Pastor Vern’s daughter in the rafters.
Bieker is a supremely talented world-builder with a flair for visual details; the world of Godshot is a barren, impoverished town of baptisms conducted with off-brand Cola, front lawns painted neon green, a magenta hearse with a casket still inside, a bright yellow bathing suit with worn elastic, a machine gun painted gold. It's rare to find someone who is so good on the sentence level, and someone who is also so invested in character and story.
For fans of all-too-real explorations of the way women’s bodies are policed and controlled, like Women Talking; novels that capture the relationships between mothers and daughters, like White Oleander; and unforgettable young protagonists, like History of Wolves
Bieker is the winner a 2018 Rona Jaffe Award. Catapult has also acquired the rights to Bieker’s forthcoming short story collection, Cowboys and Angels
Bieker lives in Fresno, CA, with strong communities throughout the Central Valley, and in Portland,OR
Acquired by Catapult editor in chief Jonathan Lee (whose acquisitions also include Rough Magic, Welcome to Lagos, and Reservoir 13)
Select Bookseller Praise for Godshot
"Godshot by Chelsea Bieker has everything I could want in a novel: cults, crazed pastors, and characters questioning what it means to be a girl and mother. Set in a small town in California plagued by drought, a cultlike church has formed around a crazed pastor intent on ending the drought. Abandoned by her mother for a man she barely knows, Lacey May—just fourteen—becomes the focus of Pastor Vern's insane plan to bring rain back to the town. As she embarks on a mission to find her mother, she has to come to terms with the horrible circumstances Vern has put her and the town in. Godshot is dark, fierce, and brilliant, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished it." —Sarah Cassavant, Subtext Books (St Paul, MN)
"Godshot announces the arrival of a powerful new voice. Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel kept me mesmerized till the very end. I felt the heat, the sand, the want, the confusion, and the pain on every page. This is the sun-drenched California nightmare of Claire Vaye Watkins and Joan Didion, and yet it is also an incredible story of resilience and rebirth. Godshot is sure to be one of the most talked-about novels of the year." —Emily Ballaine, Green Apple Books on the Park (San Francisco, CA)
"Filled with the raw need of zealotry, Godshot embodies all the glitter and despair of a tent revival. Its voice is Lacey May, a girl whose adolescence is amplified by desperation. Her mother has run off and she’s stuck in Peaches, California: more of a memory than a place, and gripped by both a ruinous drought and a homespun cult. Pastor Vern has a plan for her and all the girls, a grimly ridiculous teen pregnancy–based scheme to induce the rain that will save their town. And she has always been an obedient follower—until she isn’t. As strange as it all sounds, Chelsea Bieker achieves a perfect balance of camp, darkness, and beauty so that this is a book to be taken seriously. It’s a gorgeously melancholy exploration of girlhood, feminine power, and our search for salvation, and I can’t stop thinking about it." —Lauren Peugh, The Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
"This is a book for all y'all who love stories about weird cults. What makes Godshot brilliant, however, is the point of view of Lacey May. She is not a zealot, but she is not an outright detractor either; rather, her beliefs have been gathering 'like tumbleweed.' She is a believer who is forced to confront the unpleasant reality after her mother is banished from the community. Godshot is a great debut about finding out the truth for yourself, resilience, and chosen family." —Anton Bogomazov, Politics and Prose Bookstore (Washington, D.C.)
"The cover of this novel is perfect. So are the pages in between. Bieker wrote an unflinching journey of girlhood, religious cults, and feminism. At the center is a girl and her mother who, facing a climate disaster, find solace in a pastor’s community. Every page contains a raw reflection of our society and how women are treated, the appalling acts of men, and why we may all be doomed unless we do something about our damning actions. Combining brutal honesty and gritty humor, the novel is an awakening we all need right now." —Adam Vitcavage, Changing Hands Bookstore (Tempe, AZ)
"I read this book every little chance I got—on the train to work, in between classes, in the last few minutes before sleep overtook me—and I regret it. Because Godshot deserves to be sat down and read through seriously, attentively, with care. This is a sit-by-the-fireplace-on-your-day-off-and-read kind of book. In Bieker's layered debut novel, drought has descended once again on the town of Peaches, California. Fourteen-year-old Lacey May must come to terms with the disappearance of her mother and her burgeoning womanhood amid resistance from the town's eccentric religious leader, Vern, and his all-encompassing influence over the young girls in their congregation. Beautiful prose detailing the life of a gripping and sympathetic main character, I can honestly say that this book changed me for the best." —Jennifer Rohrbach, Newtonville Books (Newton, MA)
"About a third of the way through Godshot, I understood why so many of the writers I admire touted Chelsea Bieker’s debut as one of the most anticipated novels of 2020. I couldn’t put it down. I was desperate to know how Lacey would move through her life, a life somewhere between difficult and untenable. I had no idea how Godshot would end; I was touched that it ended with hope, space for redemption. Even though she touches on themes oft present in contemporary literary fiction, Bieker is an original. The plot was propulsive, and the characters were rendered with eerie precision. Bieker grounded the surreality of the setting in poignant detail. Well done, well done, well done." —Emily Perper, Curious Iguana (Frederick, MD)
"When an eccentric evangelist arrives in drought-struck Peaches, California, with promises of rain and salvation, the locals are quick to form a flock. But soon one of the devout goes missing, the secret 'assignments' Pastor Vern demands of his parishioners come into focus, and fourteen-year-old Lacey May discovers there are things more worrisome than drought. Godshot is a cancel-your-plans/forget-to-eat/fail-to-notice-it’s-nighttime-till-you-glance-out-the-window-and-the-sun’s-gone-down kind of book. A dazzling, layered debut that both sated me and made me thirsty for whatever else Chelsea Bieker has in store." —Tove Holmberg, Powell's Books (Portland, OR)
"Within the first chapter of Godshot, you can hear Chelsea Bieker's fist swinging toward you, but it still won't prepare you for the punch to the gut this book delivers. Lacey springs off the page in her first moments and takes you along with her on her dust-torn, glitter-stained, bloodied journey. Sometimes I get tired of reminders of how dangerous it is to be a woman (because dammit, I KNOW!), but Bieker's prose is so beautifully consuming I found myself whipping through words that twisted my insides. What a resounding book." —Amy Van Keuren, Savoy Bookshop & Cafe (Westerly, RI)
"Lacey May is fourteen and living in Peaches, a drought-ridden town in Central California that has turned to the proselytizing Pastor Vern and his promise of relief rain in exchange for nothing less than their total devotion, when her mother is exiled from the community on the back of the bike of a Turquoise Cowboy, leaving Lacey to fend for herself against a desperate and wanting parish. Now, I can be tough on cult novels, but this one's got my heart. First, there's the cult backdrop itself, a dried-up, glitter-blasted, heat-lined horror show that manages to mirror and amplify the more nightmarish aspects of a misogynistic society. Then there's the hot-blooded and vibrant cast of characters that populate Lacey May's world, from her taxidermy-loving grandmother to her near-famous lawn-painting boyfriend and the acid-scarred call girl who saves. Finally, there's Lacey May's voice, which carries us through her faith, her doubts, her encounters with evil and despair, her bravery in the face of power, and her love-fueled search that won't stop until it's found some solid ground. There is so, so much divine female truth in these pages—a resource that is, to me, a substance more precious than gold." —Molly Moore, BookPeople (Austin, TX)
"Harrowing and brilliant, Chelsea Bieker's debut, Godshot, is a tour de force. Bieker takes you on a brutal path of one young woman's awakening amid climate disaster and the burgeoning religious cult she's found herself in. It's a novel about becoming, about womanhood and the dangerous inequities between men and women. It's propulsive and dark and funny. If R. O. Kwon's The Incendiaries were to marry Katherine Dunn's classic Geek Love, it would be this book. So drop whatever you're reading and pick up this book!" —Michelle Malonzo, Changing Hands Bookstore (Tempe, AZ)
"Sometimes surreal, often surprising, and consistently heart-wrenching, this is a tale of womanhood, motherhood, female friendship, and community. It explores how our pasts, our tragedies, and our choices shape who we become and what we can overcome. Fourteen-year-old Lacey May was raised by a neglectful mother in a community under the spell of a religious zealot, Pastor Vern, who promised to return their barren, hellish, waterless town of Peaches, California, to its previous beloved and fertile condition. Lacey May is a virtuous, unquestioning, blissful follower of the Church of Vern, until her first blood comes and everything changes. Unexpectedly abandoned by her mother, Lacey May walks the pathway into womanhood alone—and it takes her to unexpected places. With the help of her mother's old romance novels, the women at the local house of disrepute, and a free-thinking midwife, Lacey begins to discover her female form and all the benefits and vulnerabilities it brings. As she awakens to the flaws of her hero-priest and his followers, she must choose who she wants to become: blessed sister of the blood, follower, orphan, sister, friend, wife, deserter, unbeliever, mother?" —Megan Irland, The River's End Bookstore (Oswego, NY)
"With Godshot, Chelsea Bieker screams herself hoarse to tell us that violence against women and girls and domination over the natural environment are one and the same. In the subsiding desert of California's Central Valley, she draws a mirror between the claims men make to female bodies and the claims they make to the land and to the stories we tell about God and holiness. Evocative of Tara Westover, Vandana Shiva, Joan Didion, and the greatest odysseys (but without hardly going anywhere at all), this book has enough resilience to burst at its own seams. Shot through and patched up with perfection." —Afton Montgomery, Tattered Cover (Denver, CO)