cover image Fire Sermon

Fire Sermon

Jamie Quatro. Grove, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2704-4

Quatro’s resonant debut novel (following the story collection I Want to Show You More) starts with a couple, married to other people, heading to a hotel. As the text quickly informs, “the story begins where others end,” with “a happily-ever-after” nod to the marriage plot that ends a typical love story before disillusionment creeps in. Then the story moves back in time to the wedding of Maggie, 21, to Thomas, 24. So good is Maggie, so in awe of God, that she feels compelled to marry the first man she sleeps with. Which works out—mostly. He’s a good father and a supportive husband, but she can’t have an orgasm “unless she distances herself from him, in her mind, picturing another man and woman.” Life limps on for years, and Maggie begins writing to James, a successful writer and fellow Christian. They talk of books, God, family; he critiques her poetry. Finally the infidelity turns physical, bringing orgasms and guilt. The story switches between life before and after James and Maggie consummate their affair. Though some readers might be put off by the preciousness of the characters (they discuss “apophatic” literature and read Moby-Dick to their young children), Maggie’s quandary—should she grab happiness if it causes tremendous pain and risk losing her connection to God?—is affecting and memorable. Quatro’s novel will appeal particularly to readers interested in a dissection of how one reconciles belief with desire. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Jan.)