Book Review: I Want To Show You More by Jamie Quatro

 
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I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE

by Jamie Quatro

Picador

 

Jamie Quatro’s 2018 debut novel Fire Sermon was an intimate exploration of an affair that went beyond the physical and intellectual. I Want To Show You More features much of that same register, and even some of the same subject matter as Fire Sermon, in its short stories about marriage, family, and seemingly mundane situations which carry a lot of emotional intensity with them.

The characters in I Want To Show You More live in and/or around Lookout Mountain, a town on the border between Georgia and Tennessee, and will often cameo in each other’s stories. In “Here,” a recent widower and his young kids are visiting his in-laws and the story’s events are small in scale, but hide within them the momentousness of a crucial time in the family’s life. In “The Anointing,” Diane is trying to help her bipolar, pill-addicted husband out of a depressive state. In “Better to Lose An Eye,” a young girl is trying to cope with the fact that her mother has been rendered quadriplegic by a gunshot wound. In these stories, Quatro’s recognisable blend of intimacy and, if not religion, a sense of faith in the divine is ever-present in the prose and dialogue. But, more than faith, the defining quality of these characters is a sense of devotion – not necessarily to something holy by definition, but to something deeply personal to them. Quatro examines these emotional landscapes through this lens, and her writing gets to the heart of the mundane. Lindsey, the girl in “Better to Lose An Eye,” is fighting both with her inner self and the world around her to make space in her daily life for the situation that brings about her mother’s injury and disability. In the end, she finds an emotional release in acceptance and eventual devotion to her mother, and finds herself against the social grain. Diane, having failed to help her husband in the traditional ways, enlists a pastor to anoint him as a last resort. After the religious approach seemingly fails as well, she seems to have a moment of epiphany when she sees her husband with their children together in bed.

She ran to the portico, to the empty chairs, to Mama. She loved her, loved her desperately; she would sit with her, facing her, her back to the party, to the world. She would hold Mama’s crumpled hands, she would kiss them, she didn’t care who saw. They would sit there together, the two of them, with only the blue sky and clouds drifting overhead.
— Jamie Quatro, “Better to Lose An Eye”

Stories like “Caught Up,” “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives,” and “What Friends Talk About” are reminiscent of Fire Sermon. The subject of an extramarital affair that is always on the brink but never physically fulfilled because of the moral implications that both individuals are trying to avoid is tackled again in these stories with the same sensitivity. Quatro’s prose captures the poignancy of a repressed desire that longs to manifest itself physically but its inability to do so lets it spill into every other aspect of the affair/relationship. Two married people meet on the internet and fall in love but cannot allow themselves to meet in person in “What Friends Talk About,” and try to keep their interactions as intimate as possible without crossing the line. The same dynamic is exhibited in “You Look Like Jesus”: “He was silent. Then: So far, we haven’t done anything we couldn’t tell our spouses about.” In Jamie Quatro’s world, sexual intimacy takes on many forms that can be seemingly far removed from its literal sense, and her prose opens up a new world where the physical is always secondary. The internal world of every character in her stories, even when it is in the third person, becomes accessible through small moments of vulnerability, when they are undergoing significant change while inhabiting a world that seems unmoving and often oblivious.

She knows the man doesn’t like it when she talks about her husband and children. He knows she doesn’t like it when he talks about his wife. But these are the things friends talk about.
— Jamie Quatro, “What Friends Talk About”

I Want To Show You More is a collection of short stories which explores the daily lives of people living around the same area, and the varied emotional complexity in the restricted geographical setting only heightens the strength of each individual story. The protagonists are common people in common situations, dealing with common problems. What is uncommon is the way their humanity is brought to the forefront of their experience in the prose – their vulnerability is not a weakness but a source of strength, their emotional openness doesn’t hurt them but allows them to get closer to a place they want to reach. Jamie Quatro writes with honest tenderness about people who make a conscious decision in their devotion and risk everything in order to be true to themselves. A powerful book in its portrayal of understated emotion.

Jamie Quatro’s I Want To Show You More is out on hardback by Picador on 21 February. The paperback edition of her debut novel Fire Sermon will also be released on 21 February.


 
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PLATON POULAS

BA English Literature, MSc Publishing. Passionate about contemporary literature, noir comics, beautifully shot films, and whiskies that are old enough to order their own whiskies. Can bore you to death with La La Land songs, Hollywood trivia, George Carlin references, and extensive knowledge on Leonard Cohen.

 

Platon Poulas