About this book
Jamie Quatro’s remarkable first book of stories, I Want to Show You More, published to spectacular reviews, announced her arrival to American letters as “a writer of great originality” (New York Times Book Review). Now, with her debut novel, Fire Sermon, Quatro delivers a startlingly unique portrait of an obsession and the complexities of a marriage.
Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically-charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.
Using an array of narrative techniques and written in spare, elegant prose, Jamie Quatro gives us a compelling account of one woman’s emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual yearnings — unveiling the impulses and contradictions that reside in us all. Fire Sermon is an unflinchingly honest and formally daring debut novel from a writer of enormous talent.
From Chapter 1:
Shall we walk back? James asked outside the theater.
Chicago, April 2017. The air chilly, the sky cleared off after an evening of rain. We’d left the play a half-hour after it began, a poorly-written, poorly-acted farce. Now the sidewalk was empty. Tiny lights strung between gas lamps and storefronts created a glittery canopy beneath which we stood. Charming, he’d said when we arrived earlier, a part of the city neither of us had seen. I was still in my clothes from that morning: white sweater, pencil skirt, suede ankle boots with zippers, high-heeled.
I’ll call a car, I said. Your hotel’s on the way to mine.
We rode in silence, the wet asphalt glowing red and green at stoplights. When we pulled up to his hotel, James turned to face me, adjusting his glasses. Okay, he said. Text me when you’re safely back. He leaned over to brush my cheek with his lips, but when the bellhop opened the rear door he didn’t get out. He sat looking ahead, rubbing a hand up and down, up and down his thigh.
Both of us 45, born in the same year, four months apart; both married to our spouses for twenty-three years. Two similarities in what had come to seem, in the time we’d known each other, a cosmically-ordained accumulation: born and raised in the desert southwest, allergic to peanuts, obsessed with the Christian mystics and quantum theory and Moby Dick. Children the same ages and genders—older girl, younger boy—and 96-year-old grandmothers who still lived independently. In the end it was this last fact that undid me, the longevity in our respective genes.
The safe way to let yourself fall in love with someone who isn’t your spouse: imagine the life you might have together after both your spouses have passed away.
(What I mean is, darling: when I made love with you that night, I was making love with the magnificent old man I knew you would become.)
Can I help with any bags? the bellhop said.
You’re at the Hyatt? James said to me.
Take us to the Hyatt, he said to the driver, and pulled the door shut.
But this story begins where most end: a boy and a girl in love, a wedding, a happily-ever-after.
Malibu, June. A bride and four attendants on a grassy bluff above the Pacific. The morning is overcast, typical on the coast, the diffuse light ideal for photographs. The bride’s dress is raw silk in antique ivory and appears backlit against the slate of ocean. Sweetheart neckline, cap sleeves, full skirt with a train that will later gather into a bustle. She cradles her bouquet like an infant, six-dozen roses in various stages of bloom, blush pink. The groomsmen, fraternity brothers, have already been photographed. They wait inside the chapel, where in half an hour the ceremony will begin. They wear gray tuxedos with ascot ties and slick black shoes. Three, including the groom, have the same round tortoise-shell glasses.
Down the coast, at the country club in Pacific Palisades, the caterers are assembling the cake: five tiers frosted in a basket-weave pattern, with real ivy and roses trailing down one side. The bride has selected a different flavor for each tier: butter cream, chocolate, spice, red velvet. The top layer—which will be placed in the couple’s freezer for their first anniversary, until one night while they’re out, the bride’s younger brother, knowing nothing about such traditions, eats the whole thing—is white-chocolate with raspberry-creme filling. The centerpieces are fishbowls with ivy and roses identical to those on the cake. They sit in a refrigerated van on Pacific Coast Highway, north of Sunset. The driver is stuck in beach traffic.
But there is plenty of time.
About the Author
JAMIE QUATRO’s debut collection, I Want To Show You More, was a New York Times Notable Book, NPR Best Book of 2013, Indie Next pick, O, The Oprah Magazine summer reading pick, and New York Times Editors’ Choice. The collection was named a Top Ten Book of 2013 by Dwight Garner in the New York Times, a Favorite Book of 2013 by James Wood in The New Yorker, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Georgia Townsend Fiction Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize. Quatro’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Tin House, Bomb, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, The New York Times Book Review, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Her stories are anthologized in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2013 and in Ann Charters’s The Story And Its Writer. Quatro lives with her husband and four children in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
Awards and Praise
An Economist Book of the Year
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers™ Selection
An Indie Next Pick (January 2018)
“It’s rare, to the point of near non-existence, to find a book that has such literary weight and heft, yet reads like a sonnet. I look at it in puzzlement, wondering how Jamie Quatro gives such breadth, depth, and intensity in so few words. And it’s funny, and real, and painful, so painful. Also a shot of light. An education. A mirror. Terrifying.” — Samantha Harvey, author of The Wilderness and Dear Thief
“There’s real humanity in this novel, and there are insights about love and longing.” — New York Times
“I devoured this novel! Quatro is a fearless marvel. An exquisite story of female desire, faith, and commitment, and one of the most haunting portraits of a marriage I’ve ever read.” ? Lily King, author of the New York Times bestseller Euphoria
“It would be difficult to overstate the wonder I felt while reading this novel. It’s among the most beautiful books I’ve ever read about longing — for beauty, for sex, for God, for a coherent life. Great writers write with their whole lives, with everything they have seen and thought and felt, with their obsessions and their desires; their books have the density and richness of existence. Jamie Quatro is a such a writer, and Fire Sermon is such a book.” — Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“Fire Sermon charts with bold intimacy and immersive sensuality the life of a married woman in the grip of a magnetic affair.” — Queen’s Gazette
“This book is bright and dark by turns but always shot through with a vital, unerring grace. Plus it's about love and death, sex and God. What more could a reader want?” — Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
“A lean first novel steeped in theology, suburban domesticity, literary criticism, child-rearing and, most dramatically, infidelity, Fire Sermon sizzles and cools to the rhythm of its narrator Maggie's moods and meanderings.” — Shelf Awareness STARRED REVIEW
“The mechanics of Quatro’s novel are an enjoyable puzzle. ” — Toronto Star
“Rolling, raw, and sensual . . . The sentences burn with desire and disquiet. The novel is generously condensed, ardently focused, and its mechanisms poetic, not expository.” —New York Times Book Review“Engaging and evocative.” — I’ve Read This