Drawn in brilliant, bizarre detail—baptisms in warm soda, wisdom from romance novels—Lacey's twin crises of faith and femininity tangle powerfully. Fiercely written and endlessly readable, a novel like this is a godsend.
... a propulsive, transporting read ... In Godshot, Bieker poignantly depicts the pain wrought by a living mother who has a become unreachable ... Bieker has crafted a uniquely vile cast of characters to surround Lacey, and the utter selfishness that undergirds the believers’ behavior keeps us rooting for Lacey’s burgeoning self-actualization ... Beyond her mesmerizing world-building, what Bieker ultimately captures so well in Godshot is how flimsy the stories we tell ourselves reveal themselves to be when we reckon with them critically. Lacey teaches us that our desperate search for meaning in something bigger than us can ultimately lead to finding salvation within ourselves.
Chelsea Bieker does a stellar job of grounding the pre-apocalyptic premise of this story in the realistic, suburban setting of California’s Central Valley ... The story starts on a slow note and for the first 50 pages, it is not quite clear where it is headed. The narrative really comes into its own when the characters and their motives become more precise. Godshot features one of the most authentic and tenderly written portrayals of the bond between a mother and daughter ... Bieker has a knack for coruscatingly describing humans at their most vulnerable. The passages that linger the most in memory are the ones in which readers’ can feel Lacey’s ambivalent feeling towards her perpetually inebriated mother ... This multilayered debut is filled with moments that are starkly grim and intensely moving. Bieker proves her mettle as a writer in how she expresses, through her characters, the whole gamut of emotions from selfless love to bottomless grief. Ultimately, this story illustrates the resilience and strength required to be a woman in an unforgiving man’s world.
... offers a heightened but still empathetic portrait of those who live and work in [May's] fictional Central Valley town, Peaches ... despite being distressing at times, the book leaves room for light and a twisted sort of humor — even as Peaches spirals into darkness ... There’s a little of The Grapes of Wrath in Godshot, but much more too.
Bieker deftly builds the world of Lacey May, who is desperate for some sense of purpose in her small town ... Bieker shows us the ways in which women’s bodies have been subjugated and exploited in the name of a greater good ... To Bieker’s credit, Lacey May is a powerful narrator, exemplifying a sense of innocence and naivety as she navigates the difficult situation she finds herself in. Despite her naivety, Lacey May is likable, with a sense of humor and a powerful sense of drive ... powerful narration ... Bieker’s book, although fiction, sparks...wonder and fascination, giving us a realistic look at the dangerous and insidious nature of fervently following a Christ-like leader who promises salvation ... This novel covers a lot of ground—gender politics, poverty, religion, and more—but all of these topics are handled with precision and care, and nothing feels contrived or forced upon the reader. All of this eventually leads to an exhilarating ending.
In one sense, Godshot is as predictable as its villains are evil. The ritualized atrocities of the religious sect that considers women’s bodies to be 'church property' has much in common with the world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and its thousand-and-one imitators. The story also takes a turn toward the sort of New Age feminist empowerment that has been in vogue since Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. But dwelling on comparisons doesn’t do justice to the surreal qualities of Ms. Bieker’s imagined cult, whose gimcrack hoaxes are set alongside the most sinister megalomania ... Lacey May’s account of her part in the nightmare is softened by her innocence and unspoiled instinct for love ... Godshot culminates in a dizzying depiction of childbirth—a true holy rite that instantly reveals the falseness of the rest.
Bieker writes a highly readable prose and with an awareness of the questions that arise during a traumatic childhood. The story is dark and often sickening, but Lacey May’s glimmers of wisdom are her buoy, bringing her to the surface when she most needs air ... Godshot is a wild and intriguing examination of cult psychology and adolescence within the context of climate grief and isolation ... Godshot pierces the boundaries of fiction , reading as the true story of a California town we have not yet come to know, but one not far off from the California we know now.
It's difficult finding the light in the story at times. There's a hint of humor in observations of the town, but the sometimes-gross details of Peaches' poverty are often more bleak ... not an easy book to read, but it picks up on the nuances of life as a woman. You do not have to survive a cult or even have left a toxic environment to relate to Lacey May – Godshot is about the ways all women are under the patriarchy's thumb.
... an intense read. Bieker zooms in on a small and insular community, though she presents some compelling universal themes about control and freedom, hope and despair. However, it might be that she includes too much by half: incest, suicides, prostitution, addiction, mania, teen pregnancies, cults, bizarre taxidermy, God glitter, gun violence, and a bull penis cane. She drops readers into a surreal, or perhaps hyperreal, nightmarish world where time seems to have stopped and the sense of dislocation is total. Yes, Central California raisin farms have been hit by years of terrible drought. And the recent California fires are all too real. But there are frighteningly fantastical elements here, baptisms in gallons of soda to name just one, that can become a distraction from the story Bieker is telling ... As a cult leader, Vern is both typical and really over the top. Bieker asks readers to jump to the conclusions of why his followers in Gifts of the Spirit church would go along with his awful plans, but doesn’t always explain the mechanisms of cult psychology. While their poverty and fear are palpable, it is interesting that the only real rebels are two teenage girls. Thank goodness for Lacey, a finely written narrator, who helps readers sort out the messiness and weirdness of the tale ... dark, to say the least, and flawed in some aspects, but Bieker clearly has a lot of interesting things to say. Readers willing to immerse themselves in a novel where real hardships and suffering take some unreal turns will be rewarded with an engrossing story.
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's] 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.
It’s a bleak tale of desperate hope, an illustration of the personal horrors people are willing to endure for any possibility of redemption ... Godshot sneaks up on you. You’re carried along by the thoughtful characterizations and the slow burn buildup of the town, especially the church, only to be hit with moments of unsettling jaggedness. There’s an explosiveness to the revelations that we’re given; Bieker shows both great timing and great restraint with regards to how (and how often) she drops those narrative bombshells ... Challenging and occasionally unsettling, it’s a book filled with striking moments that will likely linger in your memory long after you put it down.
Vern’s words enchant the town just as Bieker’s enchant the reader. But the author’s language is much more luxurious her villainous character’s ... Despite the fact that, in many ways, it is men’s power that creates the storm Lacey must weather, this is a book about women ... In the rendering of loss, which occurs over and over in the body and the narrative, Godshot shines. It also glimmers in its hypnotic prose, in its use of humor and color and sensual detail and its unflinching portrayal of the ways people hurt each other, and how they show up for each other ... Godshot is an utterly readable novel, though it is not always easy. It does not flinch away from the worst sides of humanity. But it doesn’t shy away from earnestness either, and is generous with its faith.
Lacey May's is an irresistible voice, part gullible believer, part whip-smart independent spirit who surprises at every turn. Debut novelist Bieker weaves in the political battles being fought on multiple fronts—climate change, controlling women by controlling their bodies, the intractability of cult-think, through the eyes of a wholly original, strong young woman who fiercely defends her soul against nearly overwhelming odds.
Bieker’s debut novel is a vivid and cutting exploration of unconditional female love. It observes how mothers shape daughters, biological or otherwise, and how daughters must ultimately learn to mother themselves.
Bieker straddles the line between darkly comic and downright dark, and excels in portraying female friendships...and the setting, a town full of abandoned shops and concrete canals and surrounded by dusty fields. Delving into patriarchal religious zealotry, Bieker’s excellent debut plants themes seen in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale into a realistic California setting that will linger with readers.
Bieker’s exploration of the way that poverty and environmental ravishment...add[s] to the subjugation of the female body adds more rich layers to this narrative. It’s a lot to juggle, but Lacey May is such a strong narrator, at once deeply insightful and painfully naïve, that readers will eagerly want to follow all the threads to the breathless conclusion. A dark, deft first novel about the trauma and resilience of both people and the land they inhabit.