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FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures


The Five Wounds. Kirstin Valdez Quade. W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.


I used to live in a village in Northern New Mexico that had a morada. On Good Friday, which is today, April 15, 2022, in the church year, I would witness streams of people, people I knew, from the surrounding villages making their way on foot up to the little  stone and clay Oratorio de Jesus Nazareno. There were the old and bent with their worn canes, young women pushing strollers, my propane man in his dark green coveralls, teenagers with their gang tattoos, all making holy pilgrimage.


Historically a morada was a meeting place for Penitentes, a Catholic male lay sect that included in its worship a Good Friday reinactment of the crucifiction. The Five Wounds takes place in a fictional Northern New Mexico town near the real town of Española, which has a role in the book. Its main character is a perpetual screw-up––a loveable, irresponsible alcoholic, whose mother presses her uncle to give him the honored role of Jesus in the Good Friday reinactment, hoping it will inspire change in him. Amadeo, wanting to be admired, chooses to have nails driven through his hands, rather than being roped to the cross. Spoiler: there is a character arc. Amadeo grows. His teen, unmarried, pregnant daughter, who comes to live with him after years of estrangement and is more responsible than he, grows.


There was a lot I loved about the book. I had read a short story collection by the author, which was good, but Five Wounds is several cuts above; Valdez Quade comes into her own in this complex story. Because I spent seven years living in Northern New Mexico, my funny bone was frequently tickled, and tears of empathy flowed. Because I taught high risk youth for so long (in Northern New Mexico and places far-flung), I knew the authenticity of the young women in the school for pregnant and parenting teens. I recommend the book to New Mexicans especially, to anyone who wants to know New Mexico better, and really to anyone who loves a well crafted, all too human story. 


There are surpassing realizations to be gleaned and gems of quotes. Maybe most significant to me, because I have long had difficulty with the meaning the church gives to Good Friday, was Amadeo's epiphany, a year after being Jesus. It has a ring of truth to me: "To feel a little of what Christ felt, Tío Tíve said over a year ago. And what Christ felt was love. Amadeo doesn't know how he lost track of this. Love: both gift and challenge." The revelation that more than sorrow, more than pain, more even than sacrifice, it was love.


One of the main characters is moving toward death through a good portion of the book, and I will leave you with this: "This is death, then, a brief spot of light on earth extinguished, a rippling point of energy swept clear. A kiss, a song, the warm circle of a stranger's arms––these things and others––the whole crush of memory and hope, the constant babble of the mind, everything that composes a person––gone. 

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