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Night at the Fiestas: Stories
by Kirstin Valdez Quade
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Originally posted on ars shatomica.
I’m on a Southwest kick, having read Claire Vaye Watkins’ [b:Battleborn|13163921|Battleborn|Claire Vaye Watkins|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348814807s/13163921.jpg|18342979] recently. It was actually CVW’s Twitter that introduced me to Night at the Fiestas, another short story anthology. Instead of Nevada, Night at the Fiestas takes place in northern New Mexico in the areas in and surrounding Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It is an incredibly engrossing and good read.
These stories were dark. No spoilers here for a story as good as “The Five Wounds,” but damn, that ending! If you’re going to read any story in this collection, read “The Five Wounds.” The story that unsettled me the most was “Family Reunion” — a tale about a misfit, who’s only a misfit because she’s not Mormon like everyone else, who agrees to go to a secluded cabin with a friend and said friend’s mother, whom the misfit barely knows. The unsettled feeling that most of these stories left me with was what I loved about this book. I don’t want to read to smile and think “how nice” — I want someone to tell me a story that’s striking enough for me to still be pondering it the next day. Which, frankly, was the case for every story in this collection.
Some qualms: I found the circumstances of the characters to be repetitive — academics, young pregnant women, precocious children. But I’m also not familiar with the area, so what do I know about the prevalence of pregnant women in New Mexico? I also found the collection overall to be a little depressing as the stories rang more of despair than hope.
That despair, however, does not detract from the undeniable fact that Valdez Quade writes beautifully. I found myself hanging onto every word, every turn of phrase. Whatever she writes next is hopefully just as good as the promise she’s shown with this collection.
Whew...feeling pretty stunned. These are all stories of jealousy and possession, identity and reputation. Loved the NM setting for most of the book and can't wait to read more.
Ever since I studied O Henry and Edgar Allan Poe in junior high, I have loved short stories. With this collection, Kristin Valdez Quade is added to my list of authors who have perfected this format.
It’s difficult to rate a collection, because some of the stories resonate more with me than others. Quade gives us ten beautifully written stories in this collection.
In The Five Wounds Amadeo tries to atone for past (and current) failures by playing the part of Jesus in the annual Good Friday re-enactment of the crucifixion, while his pregnant teen-aged daughter looks on. Andrea struggles between hating the wealthy land owner who employs her father, and desperately wishing she could be more like his daughter, Parker in Jubilee. In Mojave Rats Monica is feeling trapped with her two daughters, seven-year-old Cordelia and the infant Beatrice, in a sparsely populated trailer park, while her husband is off doing fieldwork for his Ph.D. Pregnant Crystal has found work and maybe a little hope as a secretary for the local parish priest in Original Sins. When the reader meets Frances in Night at the Fiestas, “she is pretending to be someone else, someone whose father is not the bus driver.”
What Quade’s characters share is that desire to “be someone else” and/or somewhere else, but no real means of achieving that. They dream, but are somehow powerless to change their circumstances, falling back on old patterns of behavior, afraid to let go of their past to head into the future.
Quade’s short story collection won the National Book Critics Circle Award for John Leonard Prize in 2015, and Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction (2016). She was named a National Book Foundation “Five Under Thirty-Five” Author.
I first came across Kristin Valdez Quade from her story Original Sins, published in The New Yorker. It was so different than the typical New Yorker offering, I had to look at the cover and make sure what I was reading. The story was simple, in form and in style. It was deeply tied to my native New Mexico, the patchwork culture bubbling from each word. Her collection, [Night at the Fiestas], is all like that first story.
The jacket blurb says that Quade’s stories examine characters who are defined by their desire to escape the past or to plumb its depths. It could have more easily said that they are ineffably human. Whether the secretly alcoholic priest or the shiftless penitente, these are people with pasts, and ones you imagine have left scars or limps. But each one is recognizable, relatable. They are people riding on the bus with you every morning but about whom you’ve never been curious enough. Quade gives you access to their stories, and in so doing, your own story, revealing your own struggles for redemption.
Bottom Line: This is what short fiction was meant to be – powerfully simple and boiling with emotion.
A collection of ten stories that "plunge us into the fierce, troubled hearts of characters defined by the desire to escape the past or else to plumb its depths. The deadbeat father of a pregnant teenager tries to transform his life by playing the role of Jesus in a bloody penitential Passion. A young man discovers that his estranged father and a boa constrictor have been squatting in his grandmother's empty house. A lonely retiree new to Santa Fe becomes obsessed with her housekeeper ... Always hopeful, these stories chart the passions and obligations of family life, exploring themes of race, class, and coming-of-age" --Amazon.com.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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