In Las Penas, a small town in New Mexico, thirty-three year old Amadeo Padilla has been chosen to play Jesus in a Holy Week reenactment of the crucifixion put on by the Los Hermanos Penitentes. Unemployed, struggling with a drinking addiction, and living with his mother, what Amadeo lacks in ambition he somewhat makes up for with his eagerness to gain attention and impress those around him, though his effort garners various results. While Amadeo is busy building his cross for the upcoming role and practicing his acting faces alone in the shower, Angel, his pregnant teenage daughter, shows up on his doorstep, weeks away from delivery.
In Kirstin Valdez Quade’s shining debut novel, “The Five Wounds,” each character is beautifully developed into someone who is worth cheering for one minute and rolling your eyes at the next. Amadeo is initially annoyed at the distraction his daughter creates from his upcoming redemption, but Angel’s determination and her hilariously direct manner with her formerly not-so-present father forces Amadeo to turn his attention from himself to his growing family. His loving and selfless but ultimately enabling mother, Yolanda, shifts from rushing to Amadeo’s constant aid to silently struggling with her own challenges, while Angel’s recently strained relationship with her own mother has thrust her into her father’s care. Supporting characters are also brought to life masterfully, such as Angel’s young teacher who inspires her student’s overwhelming but somewhat misplaced devotion and Amadeo’s “lonely, loveable curmudgeon” of a great uncle who picks him for the role of Jesus.
Valdez Quade’s writing is oftentimes funny in the face of stressful and depressing situations, successfully drawing on the all-too-familiar feeling of “if I weren’t laughing, I would be crying.” Alongside her sometimes biting humor, her writing is also frequently thoughtful, poetic, sharp-witted, and sweet. While “The Five Wounds” is a lengthier read, the opportunity to get to know and appreciate Amadeo, his family, and all their endearing qualities as well as their anger, frustration, and embarrassment is worth savoring.
“The Five Wounds” will be available later this month, but you can put a hold on it now through denverlibrary.org.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.