"Fiction is about longing and empathy.”
--Kirstin Valdez Quade
The title story is a coming of age tale of a young woman’s first experience at an annual fiesta in Santa Fe. The fiesta offers the possibility of a more exciting life for a plain girl from a rural town where nothing seems to happen. “If Frances’ life was to be a novel — as Frances fully intended,” Valdez Quade writes, “then finally, finally, something might happen at the Fiestas that could constitute the first page.” (p.88) Something happens—but not what Frances anticipated.
Class distinctions present painful realities for women characters in “Cannute Commands the Tides,” “Mojave Rats,” and "Jubilee." Although Monica tries to convince herself she and her family won’t live forever in a trailer park surrounded by trashy people she calls “Mojave Rats,” whom she imagines as sordid victims of mental illness, violent crime, and shattering personal tragedy, she has no evidence that her husband’s geological expeditions will guarantee an escape from Shady Lanes RV Park. And in "Jubilee" Andrea realizes that no matter how hard she tries, she will always be defined by her birthright: "She'd forever be checking ethnicity boxes, emphasizing her parents' work: farm laborer, housekeeper. Trying to prove that she was smart enough, committed enough, pleasant enough, to be granted a trial period in their world." (p. 195)
Parental abandonment are major forces shaping characters’ lives in “The Guesthouse,” “The Manzanos” and “The Five Wounds.” In “The Guesthouse” to a man who returns to Albuquerque after his grandmother’s death discovers his estranged father has been squatting in her guest house with a pregnant boa constrictor.
Amadeo, unambitious, unemployed and still living with his mother at the age of 33, is a "loser in need of redemption":
This is no silky-haired, rosy-cheeked, honey-eyed Jesus, no Jesus-of-the-children, Jesus-with-the-lambs. Amadeo is pockmarked and bad-toothed, hair shaved close to a scalp scarred from rights, roll of skin where skull meets thick neck. You name the sin, he’s done it: gluttony, sloth, fucked a second cousin on the dark bleachers at the high school. (p. 58)
Amaedo is taking his role very seriously. He believes that if he can just pull off a convincing performance on Good Friday, including having nails pummeled through his hands (a feat only one other community “Jesus” dared decades ago), that he might redeem himself in the eyes of the community. “Total redemption in one gesture,” he thinks, “if only he can get it right.” (p. 74)
But as Amaedo is practicing his role on Holy Tuesday, his abandoned daughter turns up on his doorstep, 15-years old and pregnant. The father-daughter reunion adds another twist to the story that is both humorous and prophetic. The ending sends a heart wrenching bullet.
Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Writing Style
About Kirstin Valde Quade
In an interview with National Public Radio, Quade said of her writing: “I've always been so interested in religion and faith. As a child I always spent a lot of time with my older relatives and my extremely Catholic grandmother and great-grandmother. And yet my father is a geochemist so I have this other very scientific background as well. Certainly I think one of the reasons I'm interested in faith is that faith is so much about longing. It's about longing for transcendence, it's longing to be closer to the infinite and longing to connect with others; it's about empathy. And I think that's also the project of fiction. Fiction is about longing and empathy.”