Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Of course, Maggie feels guilty and her religion is the framework through which she attempts to process what she’s done. Much of this went over my head, but I found some quite poignant. Thomas, her husband, supportive and patient in so many other ways, is a bit of a brute in bed. Maggie rationalises his behaviour in terms of his abandonment issues left over from childhood and her sexual submission as an enactment of Christ’s acceptance of the path that would lead to death on the cross. She thinks of her affair with James in terms of wanting only what is forbidden.
Daughter Kate seems to be the one who suffers most from the fallout. Developing anxiety symptoms, Maggie and Thomas take her to a therapist who (quite reasonably to my way of thinking) teaches her to use imagery to soothe herself. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help long-term and she’s finally put on medication.) The therapist’s explanation to the parents – Their imaginations take them down roads that bodies aren’t equipped to navigate (p84) – could apply equally to Maggie (or its reverse). Unfortunately, his gentle enquiry about “anything else going on at home” seems not to have received an affirmative reply. Her own Q&A with what’s referred to as a counsellor at one point is more likely to be God or her conscience than a therapist.
Jamie Quatro’s debut novel is a cerebral literary-literary story of the battleground between intellect, body and soul, that circles time and styles without jarring. Although on the surface the topic of the religious repercussions of adultery might seem outdated (and at one point, perhaps the novel’s only joke, Maggie’s agent says as much), but the author addresses it in a fresh and engaging way. Thanks to Picador for my review copy. For another novel about poets, see my review of Larchfield.
How I Lose You by Kate McNaughton
There’s a refreshing honesty in the author’s depiction of how, even in the most loving relationships, we don’t always share our best sides with our partners, or forgive them when they do the same to us, illustrated in dialogue, complete with pauses think with meaning, that would work well on stage. On occasion, however, this style slowed the novel down too much for me, especially in the first third when Eva is mired in grief, or in flashbacks to student days. It picks up when she travels to Berlin when it becomes a genealogy narrative, with sharp observations of how we might continue to believe the family stories bequeathed to us by our parents long past the age when scepticism usually creeps in.
Published by Doubleday, who provided my review copy, Kate McNaughton’s debut novel is an accessible story of grief and loss, and the impossibility of knowing another person. I can’t quite make up my mind whether it’s got something for everyone or it’s trying to do too much.