Daredevils (Not a Review)
I don’t really write book reviews. They seem kind of pointless, even infuriating, and difficult to parse exactly what it is the reviewer is getting out of the exercise. Is he jealous? Is she exacting revenge? Are they promoting the work of a friend? Is there anything at all I can objectively discern based on the opinion of this one person with whom I have no relationship whatsoever?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
So here is my disclosure:
- This is not a review. It’s a recommenation. I am absolutely giving you a subjective perspective on the work in question, and I reserve the right to shamelessly plug the work of a thing I love. I will do so without qualm, and you can take my recommendation with all the grains of salt you like… but I will also tell you as precicely as possible why I am recommending this book, even if what it amounts to is “I have no idea why I liked this gobsmacking thing other than it just met me at belly level and made me want to read it again as soon as I’d struck the cover shut.” (I reserve the right to use the word gobsmacking in all contexts. Deal with it.)
- I know Shawn Vestal. We live in the same town and we’ve met a few times and we interact online and I would call us “friendly,” if not “friend.” I’ve seen him at the YMCA and I’ve met him socially and we both attended the same university for our MFA (though at very different times).
- I read Shawn’s columns in the Spokesman-Review and often find myself nodding in agreement. He seems like a reasonable and thoughtful human person.
- I like the guy. He’s a good egg.
Now that I’ve got all that out of the way: I really really liked Shawn Vestal’s forthcoming book, Daredevils. I was predisposed to like it, I suppose, having more than a passing interest in one of its main concerns: Evel Kneivel.
When I was a kid, Evel Kneivel was nearly everything to me. I had Evel toys and I used to build ramps to jump on my bicycle and I rode a motorcycle (though I was too chicken to jump it over anything more than a small hump in the dirt) and I watched every second of every jump that I was allowed. I made a bet with an adult once that Evel would make the jump that was happening later on TV (no I don’t remember which one… give me a break… I was like six years old or something), and I remember winning that bet, but I also remember later thinking that I’m pretty sure the jump was pre-recorded, and I guess the adult in question probably knew that I was going to win ahead of time. I think he paid me a dollar.
I even have a scar to this day on my right pointer-finger knuckle where I used to scrape the cement when I revved my Evel Kneivel wind-up toy with action figure. That thing was so cool. I believe I also had the chopper. Just thinking about it makes my finger ache with the remembered joy and pain of it.
But I don’t want you to think that Daredevils is primarily about Evel Kneivel, because it isn’t. It absolutely isn’t.
This is probably where you’d find the synopsis of the book in a regular review, but here’s another thing I don’t really like about reviews and/or reviewing: The Synopsis. I hate both writing and reading the poor shadow copy of the book written by someone who only has 250 words left to show you how wicked smart and funny they are by summing up the critical aspects of a book without giving away too much or making too many mountains out of molehills, all while accurately representing the plot, characters, word count, use of semicolons, and white-space in the tome in question.
Instead, I’m going to list a bunch of semi-loosely related meandering things about the book that I simply loved because that is likely how I would try to convince you to read it if you and I were shooting the shit over a cup of coffee and I really thought you’d like it so I started in on you to buy this great book I read it’s called Daredevils and:
- It’s got all this Evel Kneivel stuff and you aren’t really sure all the time if it’s real Evel Kneivel stuff or if it’s made-up stuff but I’m pretty sure it’s pretty accurate because I remember some of it and I love Evel Kneivel don’t you love Evel Kneivel?
- I used to have a group of friends who once ran in to Evel Kneivel one night at the Baby Bar in Spokane so when the book was listing all these bars in different cities that Evel has frequented I was thinking of that and then suddenly there was the Baby Bar in Spokane in the damn book and I literally had chills. Chills!
- Despite the fact that almost everybody in the book is Mormon I found myself really connecting with one of the main characters on a visceral level and some of his thoughts and emotions and ideas and loves and jealousies felt as if they came directly from my adolescence. That made it sort of painful but I loved it. Most of the people in the book are Mormon but first and foremost they were people. I could live these lives with them and dammit if they didn’t make me feel stuff.
- Shawn Vestal manages to keep an emotional distance from the characters in a way that prevents the book from judging them, exactly, though I judge them as a reader and I spent a lot of time reading this book with a writer’s eye trying to figure out what Shaw was doing and how he was doing it and though sometimes that takes me out of the narrative, it didn’t this time. It made me think but in a way that I could do my thinking after I’d already done my emoting and that was a neat trick. Thanks, Shawn.
- Though the characters were often doing things that were frustrating and I wanted to throttle them or just plain make them do something else, I never once felt like they were unrealistic. They could have been my friends. Hell, they could have been me. They made me hurt in all the good ways. Sometimes when I read novels I like to hurt a little. Sometimes I like to hurt a lot. Daredevils gave me a decent hurt and I think I’ll recover.
- There was just the right amount of nostalgic 1970s material — it connected with me in just the right way. Do not get me wrong: I do not miss the 1970s. I do not miss it and I do not really want any of it back in my life. But I don’t mind revisiting it in a book, especially if it reminds me of the broken stuff that I actually enjoyed, like Evel Kneivel and old cars that we used to bounce around in. Nicely done.
- After some reflection, my only complaint is that I wanted there to be more of this book. Sometimes the plot would skip forward in time and I felt myself lurch and wanted to back up and fill in that space, to linger and touch down and know more about what happened between point A and point B. I don’t think I would necessarily have liked the book any better had it been written this way, but I just can’t help workshopping a narrative, apparently. Why can I not shut this part of myself off?
I loved Daredevils, in case you hadn’t caught that, and I would recommend it to anybody who asks. I’ve provided some links below on where you can find it, and I recommend you pre-order it so it’ll be in your inbox on the day it is released.
It really is that good.
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