The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date: March 30, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Cultural, Literary, Social Issues
Embarrassing confession time. I read a book several weeks ago that I loved, but I read it for pleasure, not review, which is a different style of reading for me. I didn’t highlight passages or make notes on plot points I wanted to share, sentences I loved. Meaning, now that I’ve decided I do want to share it, it’s not so clear in my mind. Simply put, The Five Wounds is an outstanding novel. I hope I can recapture my thoughts enough to tell you why, but if not, trust me and read it anyway.
The Five Wounds spans one year in Las Penas, a small town in New Mexico as one family comes back together as they’re falling apart. Yolanda may only be 55, but not only is she a grandmother, she is on her way to being a great-grandmother. Her 15-year-old granddaughter, Angel is eight months pregnant when she leaves her mother’s house to move in with Yolanda. Yolanda, who doesn’t live alone, but shares her house with her 33-year-old perennially unemployed, alcoholic son Amadeo, Angel’s father. He’s never been a part of her life, but Yolanda has been the pillar for all of them. Only now she’s discovered she’s dying of an inoperable brain tumor. This is not a spoiler. It’s also something Yolanda shares with no one.
There’s a lot to take in in The Five Wounds. The title alludes to an annual re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s last day and crucifixion. Amadeo has lobbied to play Christ this year, firmly believing that this will negate a lifetime of disappointing, selfish, and lazy behavior. Especially as he’s going to go further than just carrying the cross to Golgotha. I’ll leave this performative decision there because it can’t be too much of a mystery. Nor will it come as a surprise that Amadeo has given very little thought to the consequences of his actions and renders himself virtually helpless for most of the novel. Literally and figuratively. Angel is immersed in pregnancy and then motherhood, all while trying to stay in school to make a future for herself and child. Yolanda’s diminishing abilities go largely unnoticed because neither Amadeo or Angel has the wherewithal to look outside themselves.
I know I sound extra judge-y, but it’s a compliment to author Kristin Valdez Quade’s style and the life stories she’s telling. Angel, Yolanda, and Amadeo aren’t singular or surprising, they’re the stuff of people around the world. But Quade shares them with a sharp honesty, a literary tough love. There’s no blanket redemption. Her writing is so sure footed that emotional investment in The Five Wounds is the only option.
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