I’m on a Southwest kick, having read Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn 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.