I have already said how much I like Jamie Quatro’s collection of short stories, I Want to Show You More. My review can be read here. She is a gifted artisan, crafting words with thoughtfulness and practiced skill, a beguiling storyteller, and an author that reveals, for those who have eyes to see, an imagination deeply steeped in a Christian worldview.
As I also noted in my review, some people—including some Christians—may be surprised by some of her stories. Since posting my review, a few friends have asked for help understanding or interpreting some of the stories in the collection. I have never met Quatro, and claim no special insight into her intentions or motivations as an author, but I am willing to suggest a question that seemed crucial as I read her stories. This question is not unique to Quatro’s work, but is one of a series of questions worth asking as we read fiction. You can find more detail about reading fiction with discernment here.
The question that helped me gain insight into the deeper levels of meaning in the stories in I Want to Show You More is this: Does the story function as a slice of reality, or a microcosm of reality, or a metaphor for reality? A slice of reality is just that, a story that we can imagine happening just as the author tells it—the films, Babette’s Feast (1987) and The Station Agent (2003) are good examples. A microcosm of reality is a story that every reader knows didn’t happen as it is told, but realizes instead it is intended to capture a sense of all of life within its narrow confines—see, for example, the films The Matrix (1999), The Lord of the Rings (2001), or The Tree of Life (2011). A metaphor for reality is a story that can be imagined as happening as it is told, except that it contains some aspect that is, by itself unimaginable unless it is allowed to be a symbol for some issue of significance—see, for example, Lars and the Real Girl (2007) or Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).
Some of Quatro’s stories in I Want to Show You More are slices of reality, stories we can very easily imagine unfolding in life just as they do on the page. “1.7 to Tennessee” is surely in this category, and we can imagine driving along the highway up the mountain needing to keep an eye out for Eva Bock as she walks along the shoulder of the road. Her grief over the loss of her son and the form letter generated by the White House resonate with the frustration many of us feel when our vote is required by faithfulness yet seems not just powerless, but worthless. The same holds true for “The Anointing” and some of the stories dealing with sexual desire like “Caught Up” and “You Look Like Jesus.” We may be uncomfortable with them but that makes them no less real. The level of reality is such that we can imagine them not only happening, but we can imagine inhabiting the stories ourselves.
Other of her stories are metaphors for life, so that the details may be unrealistic in the narrow sense but serve to help us see deeper levels of reality with greater clarity. “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives” isn’t told to make us believe a decaying body appeared in this couple’s bed—the corpse is a metaphor for the lasting effects that unfaithfulness brings into a marriage. The story gives the lie to the myth that infidelity can be so innocent, so pleasurable, so removed from the need for commitment that a spouse can engage in it without fear of lasting repercussions when their betrayal is discovered.
I suspect that Quatro is a runner, because the details in “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement” are quite exquisite. Still, is it intended to be the story of an actual race? Or is the race here a metaphor for life’s pilgrimage, and the statues a metaphor for the silly weights we lug around in a society obsessed with athleticism and sexual vitality? What is it we get through the mail that might produce those ungodly burdens?
If I am correct in these musings—and I suspect there is much more waiting to be discovered in Quatro’s stories—would you not agree that she writes not just good stories, but stories that subversively expose the weak moral and metaphysical foundations of postmodernity?
I think it’s winsome and brilliant.