ARUN RATH, HOST:
Long before "Breaking Bad" brought a whole new set of associations to northern New Mexico, it was a place where a lot of people went to find God. Reading "Night At The Fiestas," a fantastic new collection of stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade, you can understand why the place has attracted spiritual seekers from Benedictine monks to the often-ridiculed New Age mystics.
KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: My family has been in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years. My family's presence can be traced back to 1695 and some of the earliest conquistadors. So there's a long family history in the region. It has absolutely been romanticized. It shows up in literature and art. And, you know, I think there's - there is a sort of magic to it that draws people. And yet, I think the reality of it is that it's an extraordinarily complicated place.
RATH: And these stories definitely reflect those complications. Although in terms of religion, you know, belief - you know, whether it's mystical religious belief or a scientific atheism - is something which features prominently I think in all of these characters.
QUADE: Yes. I've been - I've always been so interested in religion and faith. As a child, you know, I've always spent a lot of time with my older relatives and my extremely Catholic grandmother and great-grandmother. And yet, my father is a geochemist and so I have this other, you know, very scientific background as well. But certainly, you know, I think one of the reasons I'm interested in faith is that faith is so much about longing. It's about longing for transcendence. It's longing to be closer to the infinite and longing to connect with others. It's about empathy. And, you know, I think that's also the project of fiction. Fiction is about longing and empathy.
RATH: One of the most interesting stories in here is the story "Nemecia," which is - you know, I've read a lot of stories that reflect on how people are molded by their pasts. But this is a story about how someone is molded by someone else's past, because the character in this story ends up being abusive, physically and verbally, to her cousin, and, like, that's where, like, she transfers that toxic past.
QUADE: So the seed for this story came from a family story. My godmother was a child and watched as her father in a drunken rage murdered her grandfather and put her mother in a coma. And I heard this story when I was in my late teens. It had been kept a secret from pretty much everybody. When I knew my godmother, nobody mentioned this story. It was only after she died that my grandmother told me this story. So I knew that I wanted to explore this material because there were so many gaps in the version that I was told. And it was really only through fiction that I was able to try to understand what that may have been like for her. And I should say right off the bat that Nemecia is not anything like my godmother, who was generous and lovely. And that's again also where the fiction really came in.
RATH: So some of these stories have been published before this collection. Have you had reactions from old friends or family in New Mexico?
QUADE: (Laughter) When my first story, "The Five Wounds," was published, I was really excited and I called my grandmother and I sent her a copy. And when finally I asked her if she'd read it and she said she had. And I said well, what did you think? And she said oh mi hijita. I didn't know you knew such bad words.
RATH: That - that's kind of what you want you her reaction to be, right?
QUADE: (Laughter) Yes.
RATH: It's nice she has that idea of you.
RATH: (Laughter) Kirstin Valdez Quade's new short story collection is called "Night At The Fiestas." Kirstin, real pleasure speaking with you, thank you.
QUADE: Thank you. It was my pleasure.
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