Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas (2015) is a debut collection which affords some marginalized characters the opportunity to take centre stage.
Some of them have simply been waiting for the opportunity, like Frances.
“Frances was sixteen years old and twitchy with impatience. If Frances’s life was to be a novel – as Frances fully intended – then finally, finally, something might happen at the Fiestas that could constitute the first page.” [“Night at the Fiestas”]
Others, like Andrea, have not expected the world to take notice.
“But Andrea knew that whatever she was granted in life would be granted as a result of her wheedling. She’d forever be checking ethnicity boxes, emphasizing her parents’ work: farm laborer, housekeeper. Trying to prove that she was smart enough, committed enough, pleasant enough, to be granted a trial period in their world.” [“Jubilee”]
Sometimes there is an overt sense of the-story-untold, which creates a whiff of MFA-project (but, even then, I still wanted to know what wasn’t known), like in the collection’s first story.
“No one would talk about what had happened when Nemecia was five. And soon I stopped asking. Each night I thought Nemecia might say something more about her crime, but she never mentioned it again.” [“Nemecia”]
And sometimes observations feel very calculated, constructed (but, better that than sloppily sentimental), particularly when it comes to matters of class and privilege.
“The place caught people like trash in a wire fence, damaged, discarded people blown out of the bright tree-lined towns of America, held here until the wind came up.” [“Mojave Rats”]
Overall, the stories which touched me most deeply were those which allowed a sense of the unfinished when the story was complete. With such attention to characterization and deliberate construction of a conflict against that backdrop, I prefer to have the story end before the moment of impact. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading another collection by Kirstin Valdez Quade.
Contents: Nemecia, Mojave Rats, The Five Wounds, Night at the Fiestas, The Guesthouse, Family Reunion, Jubilee, Ordinary Sins, Canute Commands the Tides, The Manzanos