Maggie is entirely devoted to her husband Thomas, their two beautiful children, and to God―until what begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James transforms into an erotically-charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.
Charged with erotic energy and an almost mystical yearning, Jamie Quatro’s debut novel, Fire Sermon, is a tour de force exploration of lust, marriage, longing, and love. Quatro, who wrote the rapturously received 2013 short-story collection I Want to Show You More, moves even deeper into the brave territory she exposed in those lavishly praised stories, exploring the tensions that play out when heightened sexual desire, intellectual frisson, and having one’s beliefs tested meet the quotidian routines and rewards of work, family, and faith ... Quatro’s special magic as a writer is her ability to illuminate and intensify Maggie’s secret (and ultimately finite) love affair so that it seems to resonate across decades of Maggie’s life, continuing to shape and inform her even as her marriage endures, her career thrives, and her children grow into adulthood. Incorporating a mix of narrative styles from epistolary to confessional to flashback, Fire Sermon is a virtuosic portrait of flesh-and-blood sensuality and the mystery of salvation.
A stunning first novel about faith and yearning in the crucible of a strained marriage and a brief affair ...The lyric cadence of Quatro’s writing gets into one’s veins as she stealthily transforms the most common of plotlines into a scorching analysis of the ‘agony of temptation,’ prayer, the relationship between Eros and the divine, and a ‘renewed sense of holiness.’ Maggie longs for a ‘return to a viable literature of faith.’ Quatro infuses that tradition with fresh, molten energy.”
Fire Sermon is, in other words, one of Quatro’s short stories extended to novel length. Yet somehow this saga lacks a novel’s amplitude. The narrator, Maggie, is a writer. Even she seems aware that this thin if fervid book brings little that’s fresh to the theme of illicit sexual desire ... Maggie conflates sexual and religious desire, sometimes to memorable effect. More often, these meditations set off the pretentiousness alarm that rests, like a smoke detector, at the top of one’s mind. You may finally have to cover the thing with plastic wrap and a rubber band ... There’s real humanity in this novel, and there are insights about love and longing. Quatro is a gifted writer. But Fire Sermon ultimately reminds the reader of Emma Bovary’s observation that there is 'in adultery all the banality of marriage.'”