Easter Reading: The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade

The Holy Week opening was the excuse I needed to pick up this review copy from 2021. Amadeo Padilla is playing Jesus this year in the Las Penas, New Mexico penitentes’ reenactment of the crucifixion. At 33, he’s the perfect age for the role; no matter that he’s an unemployed alcoholic and a single father to 15-year-old Angel, who is pregnant. Looping from one Good Friday to the next, this debut novel is a crushingly honest look at family dynamics. It’s what isn’t said that might tear them apart: Amadeo’s mother, Yolanda, hasn’t told anyone about her diagnosis, and Amadeo conveniently covers up the fact that he’s sleeping with Brianna, Angel’s teacher at the Smart Starts! high school equivalency program.

The title refers to the stigmata of Christ, but could just as well apply to the Padillas’ five generations, from baby Connor all the way up to Tío Tíve, Amadeo’s great-uncle. Substance abuse, poverty and abandonment are generational wounds that run through this family. Quade treats heavy subjects and damaged characters with kindness, never mocking or descending into cruelty. There is even levity to failures like Amadeo’s windshield crack repair venture. Any of these characters could have been caricatures, especially Angel as a teen mother, but Quade gives them depth. Angel’s emulation of Brianna and her classmate Lizette, her grudging care for Connor and Yolanda, and her ambivalent feelings towards Ryan, Connor’s father, are just a few of the aspects that make her a plucky, winsome protagonist.

The inclusion of Lent and Advent sets up the book’s emotional palette: waiting, guilt, self-sacrifice; preparing for birth, death and the determination to forge a new life. It’s refreshing, however, that the theological content is not just metaphorical here; these characters have a staunch Catholic background, and they take seriously Jesus’ example:

Good Friday was supposed to save Amadeo. He was supposed to be past the shame and failure and the mistakes that hardly seem to be his own and that unravel beyond his control. Amadeo feels cheated. By Passion week, by the penitentes, by Jesus himself. The fact is that no one can be crucified every day—not even Jesus could pull off that miracle.

Amadeo asks himself, with no trace of irony, what Jesus would do in the kinds of situations he finds himself in.

I would have liked more closure about two secondary characters, and at over 400 pages of small type, The Five Wounds is on the overlong side. But it’s so strong on characters and scenes, from classroom to hospital, that my interest never waned. Different as their settings are, I’d liken this to An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud – two novels that had me aching for their vibrant characters’ poor decisions compounded by bad luck. The authors’ compassionate outlook makes the tragic elements bearable. I’ll be catching up on Quade’s first book, the short story collection Night at the Fiestas, as soon as I can.

With thanks to Profile Books (Tuskar Rock imprint) for the free copy for review.

 

Bonuses:

I recently finished a limping reread of Watership Down by Richard Adams. This was my favourite book as a child, but I couldn’t recapture the magic in my late thirties. The novelty this time around was in being able to recognize all the settings – the rabbits’ epic quest takes place on the outskirts of Newbury; we’ve walked through its countryside locations. (In fact, my husband, in his capacity as a town councillor, has testified at a hearing in objection to a plan to build 1000 houses at Sandleford, where the rabbits set out from.) I can see why I loved this at age nine: anthropomorphized animals, legends, made-up vocabulary and an old-fashioned adventure narrative. But it’s telling that this time around, what most amused me was Chapter 48, “Dea ex Machina,” in which a little girl rescues Hazel from her cat.

I’m 40 pages from the end of These Days by Lucy Caldwell, a beautiful novel set in Belfast in April 1941. A long central section is about “The Easter Raid.” I didn’t realize the devastation the city suffered during the Second World War. We see it mostly through the eyes of the Bell family – especially daughters Audrey, engaged to be married to a young doctor, and Emma, in love with a fellow female volunteer. I was wary of the characterization of the lower class, and the period slang can be a bit heavy-handed, but the evocation of a time of crisis is excellent, contrasting a departed normality with the new reality of bodies piled in the street and in makeshift morgues. It’s reminded me of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.

 

(I’ve also posted about my Easter reading, theological or not, in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2021.)

6 responses

  1. Funnily enough, it’s the likening of The Five Wounds to Jones’ and Persaud’s books that attracts me to read this. And I’ve bookmarked These Days as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’d especially like These Days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m considering The Five Wounds – I also loved An American Marriage so that comparison attracts me as well. I can handle tragic situations as long as it doesn’t devolve into a deliberate misery-fest by the author. And that cover is much prettier than the American cover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I generally prefer American covers, though I do like how colorful this one is. I wouldn’t have pictured Angel looking so grown up and voluptuous, though. I guess it’s supposed to be a take on the Madonna and Child image. There was a point where I thought we were heading for full-blown tragedy, but Quade pulls back from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed Quade’s debut. As a Catholic, and having “met” the author in a Jesuit book club meeting, I was hoping for a bit more Catholic substance to it. But I especially loved the offshoot folk ceremonies and rituals she describes–not exactly ordained by the Church but central to this NM community. As good as this novel was, I thought Quade’s collection was stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll have to seek out a secondhand copy of her story collection.

      Liked by 1 person

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