Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Underage 'Sister Wife' Dreams of Escape in 'Daredevils'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Underage 'Sister Wife' Dreams of Escape in 'Daredevils'

Article excerpt

It's 1974 in Short Creek, Ariz. Fifteen-year-old Loretta climbs through her bedroom window, dressed in the jeans and clogs she's only permitted to wear for chores.

She's just returned from a clandestine encounter with her boyfriend, Bradshaw, who's been pressuring her to run away. Loretta shuts the window and finds her father, a Mormon fundamentalist, waiting on her bed. To save Loretta from her "rebellious harlot" ways, she's married off to polygamist Dean Harder. As a sister wife, Loretta dreams of escaping into the world of makeup and pop music. How she'll manage it is what propels Vestal's novel, a coming-of- age story from a corner of America seldom explored in literary fiction.

While Loretta fantasizes of escape, Jason, Dean's nephew in Idaho, watches Evel Knievel jump Snake River Canyon on his "skycycle." Though Jason has the luxury of being a Mormon in the modern world, where a kid can drive a LeBaron in his Led Zeppelin T- shirt and read Tolkien all day, in the tradition of sensitive teenage boys, he's bored and horny. While his world is a much more privileged one than Loretta's, his sulky daydreams of quitting the family farm will prove instrumental when a death in the Harder family takes Dean and his brood to Idaho.

Consider Shawn Vestal's "Daredevils" a kind of Mormon retelling of Nabokov's "Lolita." Loretta is no nymphet, but a prairie dress- wearing sister wife. Both girls are separated from their families, socially isolated, and sexually dominated by men they depend on for survival. Like Lolita, Loretta copes with the stress of imprisonment by dreaming of the life other girls her age have, and she plots her escape with the help of another man. Like "Lolita," "Daredevils" is a road story playing with the American mythos of driving off into the sunset.

Little wonder Evel Knievel himself appears periodically to "address" the restless American public like a foul-mouthed king. "This is just basic American gravity, the primary force of the whole damn country, crazy pulled toward crazier," he opines.

But while Lolita's story is told by Humbert Humbert, her kidnapper, "Daredevils" is told largely from Loretta's perspective. …

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