All these characters, and an excellent supporting cast as well, come together because of Loretta. Will she escape them? Will she thwart their designs on her? Even the good kids have designs on her. Even Evel has designs on her. But she’s a daredevil, and we learn not to doubt her resourcefulness. It’s believable. She’s not a superhero. Neither are the boys she runs with. Dean and Baker (well, and Evel too) have a certain authority just because they’re grown men, but one of the questions the book requires us to ask is: is that condition by itself ever enough? Is there legitimacy in confronting and upstaging that tiny modicum of authority if there’s nothing behind it but weakness and self-absorption? And of course, the more insistent question is: if not, what must be done?
What Loretta and Jason and Boyd collectively feel about the lives that have been thrust upon them drives them to run; what they collectively know may be all that will save them. Props are judiciously employed: cars, motorcycles, hidden cash. Brains. From the first page, where Evel addresses the nation, to the first appearance of each character, to the perfectly-structured crisis growing between the kids, who know they must flee, and the bad guys, who want them for their own purposes—all the way to the painful, glorious, barely-in-control climax, Vestal’s writing is in marvelous control.
does not show epiphanies or moments of enlightenment hard-won and hard-fought (though it is about kinds of wisdom, and how some kinds facilitate the future while some certainly do not). This is not a story about crises of faith and joyful returnings. In an Amazon.com interview with Jess Walter, Vestal says that his “lapsed Mormon faith” gures in his fiction “more in the lapse than the faith.” But, he says, Mormonism is his heritage, and he appreciates its richness.1
At the end of the day, Daredevils
is, deliciously, a great story about the seventies, about kids growing up in Mormon communities where they don’t fit, a couple of men who can’t even get their wrongness right, and one quick-witted young woman who cuts the Gordian knot. At one point Boyd says to Loretta, “‘I don’t get you. How do you become you, living the way you’ve lived?’ ‘I’m creative,’ she says. ‘I’m smart’” (222). If there’s a theme in this book more emphatic than the theme of striking out to meet your future head on, it’s the theme of being smart. The dumb ones might make it partway down the road, but the smart ones get away, however they can.
Daredevils is a smack-your-lips-with-pleasure kind of read. Every sentence is intact, every image finely balanced with its corresponding action, every scene the only one that could follow the one that came before. It’s a must-have. I can’t think of anybody (except maybe a die-hard plotless-enigma Beckett fan) who wouldn’t be highly entertained and pleasantly excited by this novel. It makes you smarter, more able to meet your future. It keeps you turning pages, not wanting to miss a beat, smiling all the way through. Don’t miss it.
1. Shawn Vestal, “A Q&A with Shawn Vestal and Jess Walter,” https://www. amazon.com/dp/0544027760