I really did not know what to make of Kirstin Valdez Quade’s The Five Wounds until I had passed the halfway mark. By the end, I was very satisfied and the characters had left an indelible mark in my mind. From the thirty-three-year-old unemployed alcoholic Amadeo to his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel, who shows up at Amadeo’s door in Las Penas, New Mexico pregnant and estranged from her mother to Amadeo’s mother Yolanda who has just been diagnosed with brain cancer and is more scared of her family unravelling in her absence than she is about the tumour in her brain. All of these characters and more make The Five Wounds memorable because they are complicated and reward the reader’s attention with a thoughtful reflection on family dynamics, redemption and forgiveness.
Amadeo seeks redemption for his directionless life by joining a Catholic sect and is chosen for the ritual of acting Jesus and playing out his passion during the Easter procession. He has to carry the crucifixion cross but chooses to go a step further by getting himself nailed for real. While the book starts out with that religious narrative, it soon becomes apparent that The Five Wounds is a universal story that explores complicated family dynamics as Amadeo and his family members seek one form of redemption or another by attempting to repair broken relationships, forgive each other and themselves, while also fighting the human urge to be vulnerable and open to disappointments.
While some would find Amadeo to be insufferable, I found him a bumbling character who never ceased to seek redemption. It did not matter how often he failed or how ridiculous his attempts were, he kept giving it a go. The cross which Amadeo carries at the beginning of the book is truly metaphorical for most of the characters. Amadeo has to bear the cross of being hopelessly dependent on his dying mother Yolanda (who has managed to keep her terminal illness a secret) and also the cross of his alcoholism. Angel bears the cross of her resentment towards her parents who have truly failed her in their parenting and Yolanda bears the cross of being the glue that holds together a dysfunctional family while also keeping her health prognosis a secret. In my view, the most vulnerable of the cross-bearers is Angel and she is the one who suffers the most under the weight of her crosses – not yet an adult but having to bear the weight of adulthood and motherhood. She struggles with postnatal depression, body confidence, issues of sexuality and all of that while struggling to forgive her parents and even herself.
The Five Wounds is a very immersive story that not only leaves the reader with well-formed characters that linger for long but also vibrates with humour and delight.