ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The seed of Kirstin Valdez Quade’s clear-eyed debut novel, “The Five Wounds,” is her stand-alone short story of the same name. Both are set in northern New Mexico.
Quade has been living with their principal characters since before the short story came out 12 years ago in The New Yorker.
After its publication, Quade figured she was done with those folks. Then an editor asked if she had considered turning the story into a novel. She hadn’t, yet, but two years later Quade began working on story drafts.
” ‘Oh wow,’ I thought, I’m not done with these characters,” Quade said in a phone interview.
Meet five generations of the fictional Padilla family. At the heart are Yolanda, the big-hearted, forgiving matriarch; Amadeo, the unemployed, sometimes drunk, 33-year-old son who lives with her; and Angel, Amadeo’s estranged 15-year-old daughter, who, unannounced, comes to live with them weeks short of giving birth. Angel had been with her mother, Marissa.
The novel is largely set in a fictional northern New Mexico town, maybe above the Española Valley, named Las Penas. Translate that as “the pains, the afflictions.”
The name fits. Everyone in the Padilla family is hurting in some way, emotionally, psychologically, physically. They’re also trying to better themselves, which is why Quade said she’s rooting for them. Readers will, too. The realism of their lives leaves indelible impressions. A member of a Penitente Brotherhood, Amadeo portrays Christ during Semana Santa (Holy Week). The book’s title refers to the wounds Christ suffered.
For Amadeo, building a rough oak cross, adding extra nails for support, carrying the cross and having the stigmata experience – the nails in his palms – are more about personal redemption than sacrifice. To show he’s finally growing up, Amadeo plans to run a mobile windshield repair business.
Meanwhile, Yolanda returns home from what was supposed to be a leisurely time in Las Vegas, Nevada. Instead, she learns she has a brain tumor the size of an almond and it’s giving her unbearable headaches.
How to tell her family?
The pregnant Angel – with a belly “as hard and round as an horno” – is desperately seeking attention from her parents, though grandma Yolanda is her comfort. Angel is practical: She’s attending classes in a program on teen parenting and high-school equivalency. Angel’s Aunt Valerie, an Albuquerque school counselor, brings her a pile of baby clothes that were her two daughters’. Valerie suggests maybe Angel shouldn’t have the baby. She does; it’s a boy.
In all, the story watches over the Padilla family over a year.
Quade injects an aside about a religious figure from New Mexico’s Spanish Colonial history as seen through Yolanda’s eyes. On some lunch hours, she walks from her secretarial job in the state Capitol to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Though Yolanda avoids looking at La Conquistadora’s statue, she ruminates about her: “The conquistadors brought her from Spain, hauled her around with them like a lucky charm as they invaded the peoples of the New World, and she served as a placid, unmoved witness to the violence they wrought.” Yolanda thinks of her in both revered and disapproving terms – “Blessed Mother … Our Mother of Excuses and Turning a Blind Eye …”
Quade said in the interview that she loves La Conquistadora and it was important to go with her grandmother to light candles at the statue.
“I also think she’s a complicated figure. Her name. There’s violence in that name, in that history. … It’s a history we have to contend with,” the author says.
A reckoning with such painful narratives is beginning, Quade believes.
“The Five Wounds” is one of Oprah Magazine’s Most Anticipated Books of 2021. Born in Albuquerque, Quade is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Princeton University.
Her 2015 book “Night at the Fiestas: Stories” won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. Quade has also received the Rome Prize.
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