I was thinking in glitter and gold. Thinking, with my hands raised in praise right there in the shower, of Vern’s original miracle, the way he’d cured the town of drought years before when I was just seven years old.
Call it fanatical religion or a cult, it’s a fine line here my friends. Vern will bring the rain to this drought ridden land of Peaches, California. What was once a fruitful, prosperous place is dry as the devil’s heart. It is through ‘assignments’ that the rain will come, there will no longer be barren crops, for God has control and through faith and obedience the holy will be saved. The people are desperate and downtrodden, some proud men have even taken their own lives for the shame of it. Vern is their only hope for salvation, for he is the one who has God’s attention. He has proven he has the perfect holiness within him and 14-year-old Lacey May’s grandma Cherry was witness to it all, a devotee of Vern’s ever since.
Lacey May’s mother Louise Herd is an alcoholic, a disaster as a parent. She has her beauty though, a means to bring evil doers to the church, beauty as dangling carrots for such men. But like all women she must be clean, and boozing one’s days away, keeping a filthy house, taking up with wild men are just more marks against this stained women, already marked with a bastard daughter. In a moment of grand betrayal, chewing on rotted memories of the many times her mother has failed her through selfishness, instability and her addiction, Lacey May chooses Vern, damning her mother in front of the congregation. They are all too happy to see her finally brought down, this evil woman who is ‘always out looking for the devil’. How could she know what the consequences would be, in speaking her truth? How could she have known her mother was keeping her safe all this time with silence, that despite her stained soul, it was Lacey May she was protecting? It’s too late now, her Judas kiss sets off a chain of events, her mother is banished and leaves with a man, a stranger.
Lacey May will find out what ‘assignments’ entail for young women like herself. As she searches to find out what happened to her mother, she comes in to contact with unholy people in the town, like the Diviners: A Lady on the Line (phone sex workers). Witches who would love nothing more than to strike men dead, if Vern and his people are to be believed. She longs for her mother, where is she? Why doesn’t her Grandma Cherry care about her own daughter’s fate? Now that enlightenment is dawning on Lacey May, she understands men are meant to lead the church and it will cost no one more than her. Everything that is expected of her, that she blindly agrees to, begins to feel wrong. It’s too late now, what’s done is done and there is no going back. Her own mother’s words were truer than she knew. “Get used to it,” she said. “Women have a long history of suffering.”
Girls don’t need their mothers, do they? But there is so much she hadn’t taught her yet, things a girl needs to know to make sense of the world, and themselves. All these terrible biting things she didn’t understand. In some ways, she is very much her mother’s daughter, filled with her passion. Could she too have a “natural disposition toward sin”, her Grandma Cherry will keep her on the clean, on the straight and narrow. Now her cousin Lyle is going to help guide her on the right path, help her with her bible studies. He gets closer to her as God shines upon him. There is a stranger come to town named Stringy, the lawn painter, someone who will notice her beauty now that her mother is no longer there to pull the eyes away. Power is humming beneath the surface, something big is coming, bigger than Vern’s first miracle. They must all remain humble servants, in order to receive the ‘perfect holiness’, from whatever vessel Vern deems worthy to deliver it.
There is blind faith and faith born out of witnessing miracles, or maybe it’s great timing? We believe what we need to. What can induce faith greater than feeling as though you are highly prized? Chosen? This is how we wrong our girls, our women, and it isn’t just the men partaking of purity. Sometimes a trapped bug prefers the burning light, because it promises such warmth. It’s easier not to question too many things, for how can anyone question what God asks of you, or your body?
It’s the girls who assure a congregation will grow in numbers. Fear is the way to get what you want, fear and blindness. But there comes a time when the cracks appear, the filth, the cheapness of it all, and that is when you truly see your life for what it has become. That is when the turning away begins, and it is all doomed to failure.
It’s painful to witness and not so far fetched as in times of mean desperation, people will cling to the wildest beliefs if they’re scared. Of course, somehow girls or women seem to be the ones sacrificing. Yes read it, get Godshot yourself with a dose of Vern and his delusional followers. There is no shortage on novel’s in this vein, cults (religious and otherwise) but here, with failing crops, drought it makes it easier to relate to why they fall under the sway of Vern. It’s a solid story, when beliefs chafe against reality, you either close your eyes or accept you have been fooled. The writing is beautiful, I felt like I was in Lacey May’s confused little mind and body. Not always an easy thing to accomplish in a novel. Can’t wait to read more from Chelsea Bieker.
Publication Date: April 7, 2020