night at the fiestas book coverReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Kirstin Valdez Quade’s debut short story collection, Night at the Fiestas is well written, dramatic and memorable. The collection consists of ten short stories, all quite long for short stories (ranging from 24 – 33 pages). Many of the stories have appeared previously in publications such as The New Yorker, Guernica and The Narrative Magazine. The first story, “Nemecia,” a story of x and y appeared in both The Best American Short Stories 2013 and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014.

Valdez Quade has a proven track record. We will see much more by her before the end of this decade. She’s a name worth recognizing and a name that will appear on many more lists and shelves. The stories of this collection are filled with characters wishing for a type of transformation. The stories show how one character yearns for change and how that change impacts those around them as well as the character themselves.

In “Nemecia”, the opening story, a young girl, Maria, greets Nemecia, an unsettling character and member of the family who has joined, under suspicious circumstances, the narrator’s family for an extended stay. Maria is both interested by and seemingly terrified of Nemecia, her tragic past and her interesting behavior. She longs to be grown up and mysterious, but wants to be different and unique in her own way.

In the title story, “Night at the Fiestas,” Frances, a 16-year-old girl travels to the Fiestas in Sante Fe to watch bad luck, worries, and failed hopes and dreams be destroyed by the flames of the effigy of Old Man Gloom – Zozobra. During the night, Frances finds a bag of money and believes that this promises her life as a girl, both plain and mostly invisible, will change forever. But belief doesn’t always ensure a promise is kept.

The stories are mostly set in Northern New Mexico, an area full of interesting terrain and even more interesting characters. The collection is the perfect beach read, with each story complex and deep on it’s own and worthy of an hour’s read but the collection holds together by strong themes and characters that will keep you reading through. The collection was a quick read and enjoyable.

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.