Night at the Fiestas
Kirstin Valdez Quade
(W. W. Norton)
We are comprised of our past. Attempting to stifle its inexorable intrusion in our present lives is an impossible feat, and yet we try time and time again. The past is ubiquitous and, mostly, unforgiving. The only way to control the power it has over our lives is to open our arms and accept it. In her haunting debut collection, Night at the Fiestas, Kirstin Valdez Quade explores these deep inner quarrels we endure, and the strength we must find in order to prevail, with beautiful stories full of grit, wisdom, and unadulterated chaos.
Immersed in the no-bullshit—but still devoutly religious—culture of a small town in northern New Mexico, Quade’s protagonists are as real as they get—flawed, vulnerable, desperate for love. But also, like most of us, they’re emboldened by their aspirations. In “The Five Wounds,” we are introduced to Amadeo Padilla, who believes that playing the role of Jesus in his town’s rendition of The Passion will redeem him of his old sinful ways and gain him the respect he desires. But when his estranged fourteen-year-old daughter shows up unannounced during Passion Week with a protruding pregnant belly, Amadeo learns it’s going to take more than a little blood to out-Christ his predecessor, who in 1962 “begged the hermanos to use nails.” In “The Guesthouse,” Jeff’s mourning comes to a jarring halt when he discovers his deadbeat father breeding a boa constrictor in his deceased grandmother’s guesthouse. As his father weasels his way out of yet another confrontation, Jeff is filled with a rage that will eventually lead to the release of a tank full of swarming, vengeful rodents. In “Ordinary Sins,” a young expectant mother struggles with the guilt cast upon her by her unwed pregnancy, but when implored to dispose of her priest’s stash of travel-sized vodka bottles, she finds herself oddly at ease. Quade’s stories are told with implacable wit, and the visceral empathy she feels for her characters illuminates every page. Whether fleeing the past or making amends with it, Quade’s vibrant cast of characters emerge from their heartaches and losses resilient and transformed. Reading this collection is like reading through a juicy diary or reliving an embarrassing moment—at times it hurts, at times it makes you laugh out loud, but ultimately, it resonates with you long after you expect to have forgotten it.