The Five Wounds (Norton, Apr.) examines a Latinx man’s desire for redemption on the eve of his performance as Jesus in a New Mexico Passion play.
The novel began as a short story published in 2009. When did you know it would evolve?
About a year after “The Five Wounds” published, my editor asked me if I’d ever consider expanding it into a novel. My immediate reaction was, “No, it’s a story, not a novel.” About a year later, I was looking at several stories I had in process and noticed they all had the same basic constellation of characters. There was the mother and her grown son and their rather codependent relationship and there was his estranged daughter. I thought maybe I am writing a novel and ended up scrapping those stories and using some of that material. I realized these characters were really alive.
Why did you decide to center the novel on faith and religion?
I have always been really interested in religion, faith, and doubt, and performances of religion and rituals. Catholicism is very important to my sense of family history and identity. My great-grandmother used to take care of me when I was a little girl, and I remember lighting candles on her altar. She lived in a subsidized housing high-rise, and I remember going down to the multipurpose room to mass with her. In recounting the Passion of Christ, it has always struck me as incredibly empathetic.
Tell me about the theme of redemption in the novel.
At root I see it as a story about people trying so hard to become better people. Every single one of the characters wants to do better and wants to be more present for their family members and do right by them. I think it is harder for some than for others. That question of redemption absolutely undergirds the novel. I believe deeply that we can change and become better.
What made you want to write about characters from northern New Mexico?
My relationship [to New Mexico] is both as an insider and an outsider because I moved away as a child. There is a lot of longing for the landscape in my work. It has filled me with my family history and the stories my grandparents told, stories that my mother told me, and with my experiences there. All of those layers of experience inform me. It is really a complex place. I think one of the reasons I keep turning to it in my fiction is that the place nourishes me and also confounds me.