Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro Picador January 11th 2018
Maggie marries her first serious boyfriend and settles into typical married life with the requisite two children and a comfortable middle class existence. An academic theologian Maggie is as devoted to God as she is to Thomas and her children.
When she begins writing to James, a poet they begin an illicit affair. As the children grow older so does the intensity of their letter writing and although they only meet on a handful of occasions their meetings are erotically charged. As she shirks the sexual advances of her husband and fights her feeling for James, Maggie must confront not only her devotion to Thomas but her devotion to God and her faith.
Fire Sermon is not your normal story of marital strife and an illicit affair. Its uniqueness is in the way it is written, via letters, Maggie’s sessions with her therapist and a series of flashbacks to her past life.
Yet, it also pits theology and faith against wants and desires. As Maggie’s feelings towards James grow so does the guilt that she feels not only to her husband but also to her faith and her strong belief in God. She constantly wrestles with the need or perhaps duty to confess her sins, to absolve herself and feel whole again. Yes, she loves Thomas and is devoted to him, but does the pure physical joy and desire she feels with James warrant leaving her family?
I did get a little frustrated with Maggie and her dilemmas at times but this was perhaps the aim of the novelist, to provoke a reaction and to question what we would do in the same situation.
Quatro’s writing is sparse but extremely eloquent and thought provoking. I found the latter part of the novel particularly emotional and tender.
It is not an easy novel to read and will not be to everyone’s taste. I didn’t form an opinion straight away and put the novel to one side to think about it before I could really appreciate the quality of the writing and its contents and write a review.
It is a very assured debut and I am looking forward to see what Quatro will write next
Thank you to Picador and Alice May Dewing for a proof copy to read and review.
About the author
Jamie Quatro is the daughter of a doctor and a classical pianist, and was herself trained as a classical pianist. She has an MFA in Fiction Writing from Bennington College Writing Seminars and has had her short stories published in numerous publications.
I Want To Show You More, her debut short story collection was published in 2013 and was a New York Times Notable Book, an NPR best Book of 2013 and an Oprah Magazine summer reading pick.
Quatro currently teaches in the MFA program at Sewanee, The University of the South.
She lives with her husband and four children in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
Fire Sermon is her debut novel.