“Passionate, sensuous, savagely intense, and remarkable . . . Moves between carnality and spirit like some franker, modernized Flannery O’Connor.”James Wood, The New Yorker
“An obsessive first collection that feels like a fifth or sixth. . . . Strange, thrilling, and disarmingly honest.”J. Robert Lennon, The New York Times Book Review
Sharp-edged and fearless, mixing white-hot yearning with daring humor, Quatro’s stories upend and shake out our views on infidelity, faith, and family.
Set around Lookout Mountain on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, Quatro’s hypnotically revealing stories range from the traditional to the fabulist as they expose lives torn between spirituality and sexuality in the New American South. These fifteen linked tales confront readers with fractured marriages, mercurial temptations, and dark theological complexities, and establish a sultry and enticingly cool new voice in American fiction.
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About the Author
Jamie Quatro’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Oxford American, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. A finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the winner of the 2011 American Short Fiction Story Contest, she is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and was the Georges and Anne Borchardt Scholar at the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Quatro holds graduate degrees from the College of William and Mary and Bennington College.
Read an Excerpt
The vision started coming when I was nine. It was always the same: I was alone, standing on the brick patio in front of our house, watching thick clouds above the mountains turn shades of red and purple, then draw themselves together and spiral. Whirlpool, hurricane, galaxy. The wind picked up, my hair whipped my face, and I feltknewthat the world was on the cusp of a cataclysm. Then came a tugging in my middle, as if I were a kite about to be yanked up by a string attached just below my navel. Takeoff was imminent; all I had to do was surrenderclose my eyes, relax my limbsand I would be catapulted, belly-first, into the vortex.
The vision ended there. I never left the patio.
When I told my mother, she said, God speaks to his children in dreams. She said we should always be ready for the Lord’s return: lead a clean life and stay busy with our work, keeping an eye skyward. I pictured my mother up on our roof, sitting in a folding chair, snapping beans.
I don’t remember when the vision stopped coming. Somewhere along the way I forgot about it. I grew up and married a good man who cries at baptisms and makes our children carry spiders outside instead of smashing them; who never goes to sleep without kissing some part of my body. He says he wants to know, on his deathbed, that his lips have touched every square inch. In grad school, when I told him I was attracted to one of his friends who’d made a pass at me, he said, “Show me what you would do with him, if you could.”
Three years agoseventeen years into this marriageI fell in love with a man who lives nine hundred miles away. Ten months of talking daily with this man, until finally he bought train tickets and arranged a meeting date. We’ll justpick a car, he said on the phone. Any car, so long as it’s empty.
The day he suggested this, I called my mother and told her about the affair. I told her I wanted the infidelity to stop, but planned to keep the man as a friend. I said I loved my husband and wanted to protect my marriage. What I didn’t say was that I only knew I was supposed to want to protect it; thought that if I did the right thing, eventually my heart would follow.
My mother was quiet.
Please tell me you won’t keep him, she said. In any way.
Are the children all right? she said. Can you put one of them on?
After we hung up, I went for a long run, then walked the last block up our street’s steep incline. A cloud covered the sun so the entire length of pavement was in shade, and then the cloud pulled back, all at once; the light sped down the street toward me, and in those few seconds it looked like the road itself was moving, a conveyor belt that would scoop me up from underneath. The old vision returned. The upward tug in my belly. I recognized the feelingwhat I felt every time the other man, the far away man, told me what he would do if he had me in person, my wrists pinned over my head.
It would be devotional, he’d said. I would lay myself on your tongue like a communion wafer.
This time, in the vision, the other man was with me. I would like to say he was standing beside methat we were equalsbut he was the size of a toddler. I was holding him. He was limp and barely breathing, his skin gray, the color of my two-year-old son’s face the night we rushed him to the ER for croup, and I knew the reason I was about to be caught up was because I was supposed to carry the man to God and lay him in His lap so that God could . . . what? I didn’t know.
Bullshit, the man said when I told him about the vision. I’m already there.
My turn, he said. You, me, walking in the woods. It’s winter. We’ve just had two feet of snow. We’re playing together like kids. I’m chasing you, and when I catch you, I push you into a drift and lie on top of you. Above us the sky rips open and God is there, smiling down, and what he is saying, over and over, is Yes.
I wish I knew God your way, I said.
You will, he said. All you have to do is show up. Grand Central, February thirteenth, nine a.m.
Tell me you’ll be there, he said.
Two years later, when I called my mother to tell her how much I missed the man, how on the one hand I wished I had gone through with our planned meeting yet at the same time regretted even the phone sex, because if we hadn’t done that we might have been able to save the friendship; when I told her that something inside me was weeping all the time, and that I hoped there would be a literal Second Coming and Consummated Kingdom because then the man and I could spend eternity just talking, she said, Waitphone sex? And I said, I thought I told you, and she said, You told me you had an affair, and I said, No I didn’t, we didn’t, not in that way, and she said, I must have assumed, and I said, I can’t believe all this time you’ve been thinking I went through with it.
You might as well have, she said. It’s all the same in God’s eyes.
Table of Contents
Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement,
What Friends Talk About,
1.7 to Tennessee,
You Look Like Jesus,
Better to Lose an Eye,
Georgia the Whole Time,
Relatives of God,
What People are Saying About This
“A brilliant new voice in American fiction has arrived. Bright, sharp, startling, utterly distinctive, passionate, and secretive, Jamie Quatro’s stories are missives from deep within the landscape of American womanhood. They take you by the heart and throat, shake you awake, and ask you to ponder the mysteries of love, parenthood, and marriage. She has earned a place alongside Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, and Alice Munro.”David Means
“Fasten your seat belt: Jamie Quatro is a writer of great talent who knows how to take a dark turn without ever tapping the brakes and then bring you back into daylight with breathtaking precision. These amazing stories explore the human boundaries between the physical world and the spirituallust, betrayal, and loss in perfect balance with love, redemption, and grace.”Jill McCorkle
“The characters in these absolutely unique stories live at a nearly intolerable level of intensity, stretched on a self-created rack between faith and sexualityand they’re even smart enough to be conflicted about whether or not there’s a conflict. Jamie Quatro spares us neither the strangeness of their experience nor its discomfiting familiarity. She observes them with a cool, comic yet compassionate eye, and shapes the raw material of their passionate strivings with a steady, skillful handa miracle in which any reader can believe.”David Gates
"Yowza . . . This one is going to be big. . . . It's so good, I kind of want to lick it."Book Riot
"These are stories that make you stop whatever you're doing and read. They show us who we are, at our better moments and those other moments, too. These are delightful stories for this brand new century, from a writer unafraid to face it. I salute a brilliant new American writer."Tom Franklin
“Each one of the stories in this astonishing collection is exquisitely crafted, the characters here as complex, real, and finely drawn as you’ll find. No hyperbole here: Jamie Quatro is simply an outstanding new talent.”Elizabeth Crane
“Jamie Quatro's stories are about religion and children and sex and death and infidelity and God, and together they create one of the most authentically horrifying portraits of modern American adulthood I’ve ever read. Did I mention these stories are also very, very funny? Ladies and gentlemen, this is what short fiction is for.”Tom Bissell
“Quatro has mastered the art of the double-takethat whiplash of recognition that gets the reader first at the level of the sentence, then, with extra reward, at story’s end. The author pushes fearlessly, cape close to horns, blade held high and at risky angles. An impressive debut.”Sven Birkerts
"From under the placid surface of Jamie Quarto’s stories sentences of astonishing strangeness startle the pond and serve as reminders of the dangerous, unknowable human heart. Waves of tenderness and humor also figure in the experience of reading this first collection. Here is a new talent with work made to last."Christine Schutt
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well written short stories, these tales are not for everyone. Most definitely adult literature, some stories are quite good, others are not quite so. Overall, it is a decent collection, but not my cup of tea.
Most stories here involve women living near Chattanooga, TN, who have what I can only call peculiar religious and sexual impulses. Perhaps this is a 21st century version of Kafka, who I also don't much care for, but these people don't seem to be members of the same species as the people I know. Give the author style points only.
I will not buy it now because no one said anything about the book in their recommendations. DAH!