“Families Are Forever!”
“Families Are Forever!” is from Shawn Vestal’s debut collection, GODFORSAKEN IDAHO (New Harvest). Vestal’s first published story appeared in McSweeney’s in 2007 and since then his work has appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, Ecotone and elsewhere.
Vestal said this about the origin of his story: “What’s with all this lying?” That’s what a friend of mine – the novelist Sam Ligon – asked me about an early version of “Families are Forever!” I was startled by the question, though I had indeed written a story in which the narrator lies constantly.
What was with all that lying? Like most of the stories in my collection, GODFORSAKEN IDAHO, this one emerged slowly, over several drafts. It includes certain touchstones from my own life – a Mormon backdrop, a southern Idaho setting – but the events in the story came together one tiny piece at a time, without a certain ending in sight. Eventually, I found that I had circled back to the same preoccupations that always squirm their way into my work – family, faith, the manipulation of truth.
Yet there was a void at its center. An absence of something, whether it was meaning or authenticity or simply authorial intention. What was missing? Sam looked to the pages for the answer. He interrogated the pages, prosecuted them – as if the answer to what was missing could be found only in what was already there. This was a revelation. That the accidental, unintentional serendipity of the imagination might be expressing something I hadn’t noticed.
What was with all that lying? The question set me on a path toward finishing the story. I didn’t try to answer it so much as to deepen the question throughout the story, to cast its shadow over every scene and every line.