The Five Wounds of Kirstin Valdez Quade
If the land of New Mexico could speak, what do you think it would say?
Kirstin Valdez Quade's childhood is populated by long road trips, endless house moves and nights sleeping in the van. Or under the stars in a tent in the countryside. Always in transit, Kirstin and her sister accompanied their father, a geologist, to collect kangaroo skulls and soil samples. Soil that tells stories, perhaps whispered to her as a child.
And they were not placid stories, but painful and violent ones. They were fertilized in the soil of New Mexico, where first the Spanish took this land from the Native Americans and then, as cattle ranching gained ground, it passed into the hands of white settlers and the United States government.
A tale of loss that for the Latina author is also fertile territory for fiction.
“My family has a centuries-long history in New Mexico,” Quade told the LA Times. "Throughout my life I have moved many times, but my grandmother's house and my extended family remain the one constant home, the home I return to. Because of my ever-changing circumstances, I can only do that in my fiction."
Her first novel, The Five Wounds, draws heavily from a universe rooted in New Mexico, but also reflects on the inequalities and injustices we face. At the same time it does so with such a fine humor that it works the magic of catharsis on the reader and forces them to fall in love with its characters.
It tells the story of the Padilla family through five generations inhabiting the fictional town of Las Penas, New Mexico. A place of tall scrub brush, rocky deserts, tortillas grilling on the comal and hamburgers oozing grease, and flowered tablecloths.
Angel, the Padilla's daughter, is 15 and pregnant. Although she would like her grandmother Yolanda to take care of her, she has enough to do to provide for Angel's deadbeat father, Amadeo, who is a pit of problems and doesn't know how to manage his masculinity.
Born from the seed of a story published in The New Yorker that later grew into a novel, The Five Wounds is a profound and humorous narrative about family, roots and land. But also about nostalgia....
"I miss my family!", says Kirstin Valdez Quade. "I miss the big parties in my grandmother’s living room with so many relatives who are gone now. I miss my great-grandmother, who cared for me when I was a kid; I miss her tortillas and the smell of the elevator in her building. I miss my grandfather. He died of COVID in October. I wish I’d been able to be with him at the end — I’d always promised him that I would if I could."
When this book began to take shape, it was largely because Valdez Quade wanted to fill in the gaps in his stories, to add details that for some reason his relatives could not or would not explain.
If art, as the writer says, is "a tool" that can be used as much to hurt or propagandize as it can to see our own humanity and create empathy, The Five Wounds is, in many ways, one of those works capable of making emotion blossom, growing like the roots of a tree after each reading.