“Night at the Fiestas – Stories” by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton, $25.95)

Quade discusses and signs copies of her story collection “Night at the Fiestas” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, and at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 26 at Collected Works, 202 Galisteo, Santa Fe.

By David Steinberg

Kirstin Valdez Quade’s wondrous debut story collection comes at you from many directions. All of those directions are brimming with insight.

The stories in Quade’s collection are mostly about the coming of age of teenage and preteen girls.

They are about life in small-town New Mexico and their revealing sense of place.

Perhaps, the most clarifying aspect is that the stories are about family – the misunderstandings and uncertainies of love, the dimly lit futures, the conflicting emotions that inevitably bloom.

It is thanks to Quade’s literary style that sharpen her observations and make the stories come alive for readers.

In the title story, “Night at the Fiestas,” young Frances is taking a bus from Raton to Santa Fe in search of something of which she’s not sure. She encounters a man, a painter, who may not be who he seems to be. He’s a man who is attracted to Frances’ younger cousin Nancy. The story is wrapped in the wonder of Santa Fe Fiestas back when the city was still a town.

In “The Five Wounds,” the pregnant teenager Angel comes back the northern New Mexico village to see her loser dad, Amadeo. Her visit happens to be days before Holy Week when Amadeo will portray Jesus on the cross. A living Christ punctured with real nails. Angel foolishly seeks comfort from her father. Amadeo unrealistically seeks redemption from his portrayal as a member of a Penitente brotherhood.

In “The Manzanos,” 11-year-old Ofelia lives with her grandfather in a village on the east side of the Manzano mountains. The story is about their day-to-day relationship, the dead-end village of Cuipas (fictional name for the real Torreon), the grandfather’s memories of his absent daughter (Ofelia’s mother) and Ofelia’s fear of early death because she thinks she’s the incurable object of the ojo, the Evil Eye.

In the opening story “Nemecia,” Maria recalls trying to make sense of her mother bringing into their home Maria’s older teenage cousin Nemecia. Maria feels slighted, as if she is no longer her mother’s daughter.

In a phone interview, Quade explained her strongest thematic interest.

“I really think family is to me the most interesting and most fertile soil for the fiction I write,” she said. “I think it’s because families have so much intimacy there. Members knew each other so well. There was so much love there. … and potential for injury and betrayal. The dramas that take place in families are just really, really telling to me.”

The “Nemecia” story brought attention to Quade, an Albuquerque native, who teaches creative writing as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan.

That story was chosen for “The Best American Short Stories 2013” and in the “O. Henry Prize Stories 2014.”

Two other stories, “The Five Wounds” and “Ordinary Sins,” a startling role-reversal tale about a pregnant girl who becomes the confessor for a priest, have appeared in The New Yorker.

When she’s been back in New Mexico, she visits with her maternal grandparents.

“One thing we like to do is drive to places that were important to them. I grew up hearing so many stories about this town (Torreon). In my grandma’s stories it was such a vital place, but it’s pretty quiet and there are a lot of crumbling houses. I wonder what it would be like to be a child there now,” Quade said.

Quade has received several prestigious awards – the 2014 National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and the 2013 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. She had also received the Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote Fellowship at Stanford University.

Quade is working on a novel and has more stories percolating. “I love reading short stories. Some of my role models continue to write short stories – Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Antonya Nelson,” she said. “I hope to make a career of writing both.”

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