Today makes me happy, Story366. If you’ve paid very close attention this year, you know I have some anxieties, the most prominent being all forms of claustrophobia. I don’t like tight spaces, but in general, I also despise not being able to do something that I want to do. It bothers me to not be able to think of something, such as who played a character in a movie, because like claustrophobia, it’s confining and constrictive, not knowing something I want to know. Usually I can take a deep breath and change my mode of thinking, but sometimes it’s more difficult: I’ve taken trips to Chicago, leaving Karen and the boys in Missouri, and I’ll wake up and need to see Karen, my boys, and it starts to physically sicken me that I’m in Chicago and simply cannot (nor can I call them, really, unless I want to freak the shit out of Karen). When that happens, I have to get up, take deep breaths, drink something, focus my brain on something else, maybe read or watch TV until the feeling passes. This only occurs once a month or so, but it’s often tied to sleep and dreams, me waking with a start, with a strong compulsion to do something that’s impossible.
I also am a collector, as I’ve noted, a psychology that made me want every G.I. Joe toy when I was a kid, every issue of The Avengers comic book, etc. I’ve also managed to channel this feeling for good, like Story366: This blog project is just a collection of 366 authors and books and my need to quench that thirst for completion drives me to read and write every day.
How’s this tied to today’s post? When I wrote about Brady’s Udall’s “Letting Loose the Hounds” on June 29, I filled the hole of the U author on my alphabetical archive. In that post, I also made a call for authors whose surnames began with X and Q the two remaining letters. On my own (thanks, Story366 readers …), I found Gao Xingjian and reviewed his story “Cramp” on July 17 (and yes, I acknowledge that since he’s Chinese, the name with the X might not be the surname). That left Q.
Somehow I missed the fact that I had Kirstin Valdez Quade‘s book Night at the Fiestas (out from Norton) on my short list for quite some time. I got myself a copy and queue the band … my collection is complete! I did it! I found authors whose names start with all twenty-six letters of the English alphabet! Yay! I’m not saying that I’m going to celebrate this type of achievement (though I’ve celebrated less), but when I flip through that alphabetical archive, I will find no gaps. I will nod at my accomplishment. I will smile. I will have won.
(Oh, and if you’re evil and wondering if Kirstin Valdez Quade should be alphabetized under V instead of Q—that thought crossed my mind, too—I give you two pieces of evidence: 1) the two latter names are not hyphenated, and 2) scroll down and look at the cover, at her name. Looks like “Quade” is separate to me! Argument: destroyed. Alphabet: achieved.)
Oh, and aside from fulfilling some sick anxiety I have, I also got to read a couple of top-notch stories in Quade’s book. I began with the title story, “Night at the Fiestas,” a coming-of-age story that I liked a lot, but after reading “The Five Wounds,” I found myself with more to say about that, so here we go.
“The Five Wounds” is about Amadeo Padilla, who’s Jesus. That’s the first line: “This year, Amadeo Padilla is Jesus.” It’s a role he’s been awarded for the yearly Passion play in his parish, and if you’re Catholic, you know what that is, what it involves, and how it’s the most solemn and holy time of the year in the church. Anyone can guess, though, how big of a deal it is to be chosen to play Jesus, which is both an honor and a complete shock to Amadeo, who is not the type of guy they normally pick. Usually, they choose someone younger than Amadeo (although, he is 33, like Jesus when crucified), and more attractive (Amadeo is kind of gnarly, missing some teeth, his skin scarred and pocked). He’s also not the best Catholic, as he doesn’t go to church every week, has an illegitimate daughter, and is more or less always between jobs. Yes, Jesus loves everyone, and in that line of thinking, Jesus could be anyone, and maybe that’s why they chose Amadeo.
So a cool premise for a story, which Quade only builds on: That illegitimate daughter of his? One day, not long before Easter, he comes home to find her waiting outside his house, wanting to stay with him for a while. Her name is Angel and she’s in high school and she’s very, very pregnant. Amadeo would normally be fine with that—he doesn’t see Angel much and he regrets that (a major theme in the story)—only Amadeo is Jesus now and he’s got people from the church watching him. Still, he lets Angel in, as he’s her dad and she pretty much insists (and she’s a pregnant teenager and doesn’t have anywhere else to go).
What makes all this complicated for Amadeo and Angel is that the church official put in charge of watching him, making sure he’s worthy of his role as Christ, happens to live across the street. His name is Manuel Garcia and he’s in a wheel chair and he has all day to just sit and watch Amadeo. Oh, and by the way, Manuel played Jesus once in the Passion at their parish, back in 1962. Oh, and by the way, he actually made the guys from the parish playing the Roman soldiers nail him to the cross (the stigmata from the title)! The parish has never exactly endorsed this—Manuel was crippled for life by the incident and his fellow parishioners have been tithed since to support him—but the reality is, this crazy-dedicated former Jesus is keeping tabs on Amadeo. While Jesus himself likes everyone, Manuel isn’t too crazy about pregnant teenage daughters showing up, not at Amadeo’s house, let alone in the sanctuary, where Amadeo brings Angel once for a rehearsal (that Manuel somehow manages to attend).
I won’t go any further into the plot, as there’s a lot left, as I want to leave something to discover, to experience on your own. What we get, though, is a story about faith and identity, obviously, but more than that, a story about a father and his daughter reconnecting. Amedeo and Angel’s mother made the same mistake that Angel made—high school pregnancy—and while Amadeo gave a half-ass shot at being a dad, Angel doesn’t have anyone, doesn’t even know who the baby’s father is. The Jesus play is a large part of this story, but really, this is about redemption (as is the Jesus play!), about a guy who’s trying to do good by someone he’s wronged. What an opportunity Amadeo has in this story, in a couple of ways.
I enjoyed reading Kirstin Valdez Quade’s work in Night at the Fiestas, so far two longish stories about characters having to change, and quickly, having to mature because others are depending on them. She’s a hugely talented writer and I hope to get to more of these stories, keep an eye out for what’s next.