Night At The Fiestas
“Nemecia” is from Kirstin Valdez Quade’s debut collection, NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS (Norton, 2015). Quade received a “5 Under 35” award from the National Book Foundation as well as the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the 2013 Narrative Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Narrative, The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere.
Kyle Minor, reviewing the collection for the New York Times, said, there are “three legitimate masterpieces in Kirstin Valdez Quade’s haunting and beautiful debut story collection, NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS.” He went on to write: “The collection reminds us, again and again, that each of us has only one life, and forces us to confront the biggest questions: Shouldn’t that one life matter, shouldn’t that life be worth remembering, shouldn’t it be worth examining, contemplating, pursuing in understanding, even though all varieties of understanding are so difficult, so time-bound, so provisional?”
In an interview in The New Yorker Quade discussed her collection: “For the most part, the stories in NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS are set in northern New Mexico, against a backdrop of the miracle-laden, medieval Hispanic Catholicism practiced in the region where my family is from. Most of the conflicts center on the family and the particular ways in which members of a family can betray and wound and sustain one another.”
Quade said this about the origin of her story: The seed for “Nemecia” was an event that occurred in my godmother’s life: when she was three, she watched from behind a wood box as her father, in a drunken rage, killed her grandfather with an ax and put her pregnant mother in a coma.
My godmother never spoke of what she’d witnessed, and the rest of the family also conspired to keep it a secret. As soon as she was able, my godmother moved from the little New Mexico town where she’d grown up, dyed her hair blonde, and Anglicized her name.
I only heard the story when I was nineteen, just after my godmother’s death. I was stunned to learn such a monumental fact about someone I thought I’d known. I wondered what she’d remembered of that violence and how it had shaped her life. I wondered what it had been like for the people around her to know that secret, and what it had been like for those who hadn’t known the secret, but who surely must have sensed its presence. And so, in the absence of answers, I fictionalized. Nemecia, my character, isn’t my godmother, who was vivacious and generous.
In my first draft there was more emphasis on the violent father, on his guilt, on his return after he’d completed his prison sentence. But I discovered I was far more interested in the relationship between these cousins and in the legacy left by that old trauma. I became interested in the way a secret can take on heft and power over time, and in the way pain can become romantic and enviable.