Image by Mike Fisher, flickr
Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas is a collection of exquisitely crafted stories. Almost all of them are set in New Mexico and almost all of the characters are Hispanic, and many suffer from a powerful sense of insecurity, but Quade is not interested in a heavy handed depiction of racism. Instead, she takes up the more difficult task of exploring the internalized belief of one’s own inferiority, and we suffer along with the characters at every handout, misguided praise or attempt at encouragement from people who are more privileged.
In “Canute Commands the Tides,” Margaret Noyes—a retiree recently arrived to New Mexico, her husband, Harold, left behind back east—can’t seem to finish her painting of the Danish king Canute, who tried to defy the ocean by having his throne carried into the waves. To distract herself, she seeks comfort in the company of Carmen, her cleaning woman:
Margaret was wondering how she’d describe Carmen’s accent to Harold.
“I’m planning to learn Spanish. Maybe you could tutor me”. She said it without thinking, then faltered.
“I don’t speak Spanish. Not good, anyways.” Carmen shook her head, and for a moment the scar disappeared in the crease of her neck.
Suddenly, Margaret was afraid that Carmen might not agree to work here. She was about to explain that she’d only assumed because of the accent when Carmen looked up, grinned. “The only words I know are cusses.”
Although this collection is her debut, Quade has already won a string of awards, culminating in being named one of 5 writers under 35 by the National Book Foundation. If you like Night at the Fiestas, check out The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar.