Faith and Desire in the 21st Century: I Want to Show You More

04/10/2013 4:00 AM |

I Want to Show You More
By Jamie Quatro

The 15 linked stories in this debut collection run the gamut from realistic to fabulist. In one, people must run marathons while carrying statues that arrive mysteriously by mail; most of the statues are “creatures with hideously sized phalluses.” An-other centers on a reccurring sinkhole that plagues the chest of a teenage boy. The more realistic stories are also haunted by the mystical and the spiritual—fitting, as all the stories take on the hard questions of faith and loyalty.

Mostly set around Lookout Mountain on the Tennessee-Georgia border, many of the stories explore a less concrete boundary: faith as it presses up against real-life desire. In “The Anointing,” a wife desperate to help her husband jettison his depression calls on her pastor and church elders to anoint him with oil, which she imagines being in “a small vial” but which arrives inside a huge plastic jug. In “Decomposition,” a married woman who has fallen in love with (but has not slept with) a married man asks her (specifically sought out) Christian therapist, “What if the truth is he was the one I was supposed to marry?” The therapist replies, as she must, “I assume that biblical truth is what you’re most concerned with.” The assumption in the narrator’s question is that she’s supposed to marry someone: that our lives are preordained and our job is to seek out the right path. Much of the tension in these stories stems from characters realizing that what they’ve long considered God’s plan can theoretically be molded to match their own desires. What Quatro renders so accurately is the power and pain that comes with such a realization.

These stories are bold (and wise) in their portrayal of how, when we want to find a sign, we can usually make ourselves find it. Many comparisons will be made between Quatro’s and Flannery O’Connor’s treatments of religion and faith; they are all accurate and deserved. But this book pushes past that inheritance by examining how it holds up it in our time, when we’re effortlessly connected by technology, when affairs (or almost-affairs) can be conducted safely (or almost safely) from hundreds of miles away.