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Kirstin Valdez Quade's Debut Novel 'The Five Wounds' Is A Highly Anticipated Release

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Amadeo Padilla is playing Jesus in a Good Friday procession, and he takes the role so seriously, he winds up in an emergency room in his town of Las Penas, N.M., with wounds from nails. What follows is a year of real-life drama, much of it sharply funny, too, in the life of Amadeo, Angel, his 15-year-old daughter who's about to give birth, a cast of characters who share each other's lives whether they like it or not. "The Five Wounds" was a celebrated story published in The New Yorker. It has grown into the debut novel from Kirstin Valdez Quade. I spoke with her earlier this week and asked her to read a passage in Amadeo's voice.

KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: (Reading) Jesus never had to face the long, dull aftermath of crucifixion, the daily business of [expletive] and tooth-cleaning and waking reluctantly to a new day. Jesus never had to watch people return to their own concerns and forget what he did for them. No, instead, Jesus died on the cross. And before the women quit weeping outside his tomb, before all those Marys had to deal with grocery shopping and returning to work and paying the bills, Jesus rose from the dead. Oh, he must have felt smug up there on the cross with that trick up his sleeve. He was spirited away to heaven, where he lives in the lap of luxury, looking down on the people with their big, endless worshipful party. Because what is Christianity except a never-ending memorial service with people singing his praises and invoking his name until the end of [expletive] time just because one day he got three nails and a poke in the ribs?

SIMON: Oh, my. That's irreverent and hilarious. And correct me if I'm wrong, it could only be written by a great writer who knows and respects some faith traditions.

VALDEZ QUADE: (Laughter) I write about Catholicism a lot. I continue to be drawn to it. And I'm so interested in the ways that these stories, these old, familiar stories, are always changing depending on who's thinking about them and what state they're in and what their needs and fears and desires are.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Angel, the 15-year-old who is expecting. Fifteen is awfully young to learn that there are just some things in life for which we don't get do-overs, isn't it?

VALDEZ QUADE: Yes. You know, Angel, from a very early age, has taken on a lot of responsibility. And I think she's really surprised when she discovers that she's pregnant. But because she's used to taking on that responsibility, she faces it. And she's determined to make the best life possible for her infant son.

SIMON: Yeah. She says at one point that she wishes that her mother hadn't have been the cool mom that teens think they want.

VALDEZ QUADE: Yes. I think, you know, she was her mother's companion and best friend. And that's a heavy burden for a child to bear. And when she needs her mother to be a mother, her mother isn't able to rise to the occasion.

SIMON: Yeah. There is so much in here that speaks of your knowledge of religion, your knowledge of faith, your knowledge of humanity in that area of the country. Did you also have to learn a lot about windshield repair?

VALDEZ QUADE: (Laughter) I did watch some YouTube videos about windshield repair, yes.

SIMON: (Laughter) 'Cause I was struck by the veracity of those scenes, I got to tell you.

VALDEZ QUADE: You can learn anything on YouTube.

SIMON: Oh, my word. Are these characters still with you?

VALDEZ QUADE: They are. They've been with me for so long. They're members of my family. I'm ready to live with some other characters.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You mean you kill these characters, Amadeo and Angel, Brianna - look; it's been nice, but...

VALDEZ QUADE: After the story was published, I really had the question of what next? After Amadeo is nailed to the cross and has this epiphany, what happens the next morning? How - does he really change? And how does his relationship with his daughter change? And after following them for a year, I think I - a lot of my questions have been answered.

SIMON: I've got to tell you, I'm left with the impression that the trials through which he must now live, including his own, kind of have a way of renewing his sense of purpose in life. Am I headed in the right direction?

VALDEZ QUADE: Absolutely. I think Amadeo's arc is learning to see outside of his own story. He has to see his daughter's story, his mother's story. And it's only when he's able to truly see the people around him that he's able to step up and take responsibility for them. And that's when he begins to change.

SIMON: I got to tell you, I'm now trying to carry a little bit of Yolanda, the mother, with me.

VALDEZ QUADE: Oh, thank you. Yolanda's a good person, and she's learning to listen to herself.

SIMON: And that's what writers do, too, isn't it?

VALDEZ QUADE: Yes, our job is to pay attention.

SIMON: Kirstin Valdez Quade - her debut novel, "The Five Wounds" - thank you so much for being with us.

VALDEZ QUADE: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLY5THAVE'S "HOLD ON WE'RE GOING HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.