Review of Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas

Quade’s Night at the Fiestas deserves every ounce of the praise it’s been given. Here is a collection firmly rooted and grown from the Southwest, particularly northern New Mexico, that tells the stories of the forgotten small towns, desert-blasted wanderers, and the conflict between those natives and the rich pilgrims who come to partake in New Mexico’s beauty. The setting isn’t glamorized as one might be tempted to do, but omnipresent, a sun beating down on the characters, although in a few places it comes forward in a carnival not unlike something from Poe. “The Five Wounds,” “The Cabin,” and “Family Reunion” (our comic relief, as it goes) stand out, “Cabin” in the vein of Carver and “Five Wounds” as O’Connor-esque but with more muscle, more heart. These are stories largely about betrayal, but the betrayal of humans simply being humans in the tragic way that wounds them all; we see here the ways that people, trying to be good or trying to steal something or another, are too nuanced to be judged, under the influence of forces too big to blame. These are stories of a cruelly nuanced world where the villains carry such obvious hurt we cannot hate them, or where the most luminous people we meet have their claws as well. It is a humanity of thorns brushing against naked skin, and people nevertheless reaching for them.

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