Jamie Quatro’s first collection of short stories, I Want to Show You More, gets its title from the book’s ninth story called “You Look Like Jesus”. In the story, the narrator takes a picture of her feet and sends it via text to the man she is having an affair with, right before typing: “I want to show you more.” This sentence is an apt title for the book because it is indicative of Quatro’s ability to reveal her characters’ deepest desires and vulnerabilities.
The opening story, “Caught Up” has a fitting title, as well. The feeling the narrator describes in her recurring cataclysmic dreams is the sensation the book induced in me as I read it. She describes seeing a red and purple whirlpool in the sky that threatens to engulf her. “Then came a tugging in my middle,” she writes, “as if I were a kite about to be yanked up by a string attached just below my navel. Takeoff was imminent…” The stories that follow are a stirring vortex and fearless look at the Quatro’s characters’ inner struggles with faith, loss, and love.
Many of the book’s 15 stories take place where Quatro lives with her family: Lookout Mountain, a remote place that overlaps the border between Georgia and Tennessee. The fact that it encompasses two states has had an influence on the author. She told the Oxford American:
…I think the coexistence of opposites that you find along borders—the constant interplay of merger and division—characterizes many of the more intangible aspects of my life. Am I a mother who writes, or a writer who mothers? The answer changes day to day, and is, at its root, a matter of self-perception. (“Jullianne Ballou – Interview with Jamie Quatro”, Oxford American, 1 March 2013).
Quatro’s stories and characters also possess this dichotomy. In the story “The Sinkhole”, this contrast exists in the opposing mental and physical states of its two characters. The narrator is a teenage boy who obsesses over the sinkhole he believes spins inside his chest. He secretly performs a ritual he calls “the gesture” in order to keep the sinkhole from reaching his heart and stopping it.
Meanwhile, he longs for a girl who lost her reproductive organs and colon to childhood cancer, resulting in her need to wear a colostomy bag and compression stocking. While he tries to hide something he believes exists inside him that doesn’t really physically exist, she suffers from literally wearing her insides outside of her skin and not being ashamed.
In “Better to Lose an Eye”, fourth-grade Lindsey fluxes between embarrassment and deep love for her quadriplegic mother. When she is invited to a classmate’s birthday party, she is mortified that her wheelchair-bound mother will attend. Upon hearing the whir of her wheelchair, Lindsey feels “the heavy drag in her stomach, the disgust.” However, later Lindsey rushes to her mother’s side after the other guests abandon her. As she runs she thinks she will hold her mother’s “crumpled hands” and kiss them and not care who sees.
Many of the women in these stories are pulled between the world they currently inhabit and one they desire to live in, resulting in extramarital affairs. “It’s like this great darkening has taken place,” one character says over the phone to the man she is having an affair with, “Like I’ve sucked the light out of the world and into myself and only you can access it.” Often the men in these scenarios are only receiving texts or phone calls from these women, but are never in physical contact with them.
The corporeal absence of these men stresses the loneliness these women experience despite the presence of husbands and children. This concept is magnified In “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives” when a woman finds the corpse of her lover in her bed, and her husband curled up in fetal position next to it. The body, whose skin is “the color of wet newspaper” stays in the bed with the couple throughout most of the story until the wife finally decides to dispose of it.
“Decomposition” is weirdly titillating and simultaneously poignant thanks to the narrator’s matter-of-fact tone coupled with the bizarre circumstances. Quatro’s dark wit and exceptional use of metaphor, comparing the various stages of a body’s decomposition to a relationship’s break down, also shape the story into such a gem.
There is a lot of running taking place in these stories, both literally and figuratively. Characters run up and down Lookout Mountain, away from their affairs, away from their fears, and toward what they desire. In places, Quatro, a runner herself, describes the runner’s high as a religious experience. In “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement”, a group of runners embarks on a marathon in which they must carry statues strapped to their backs. When the narrator achieves the runner’s high, she says’: “It’s like something bigger is running me. If I were the sentimental type, I’d say that something is love.”
In the aforementioned story “Sinkhole”, the narrator is a star runner who refers to the runner’s high as “God rhythms” and believes that when he achieves the high, God will speak to him. In “Holy Ground”, a woman runs from her family, trying to lose her guilt over having an affair. She runs into town and kneels at the local pastor’s feet. “How do I worship with heart, soul, mind, and strength? she asks, “when I keep privileging the mind and saying no to the body?”
The struggle between faith and doubt is scattered everywhere within the stories. In “The Anointing”, a woman named Diane orders an anointing by the church on her husband whose depression has kept him bedridden. She is skeptical of God, however, wondering: “What if it was all a crock, made up to quiet fears of not existing?” The congregation of Lookout Mountain Church abandon their religion In “Demolition” after a deaf man named Corbett Earnshaw joins the congregation and declares through sign language that he doesn’t believe in Christianity.
After his departure from the church, the church itself begins to fall apart and eventually is demolished. The parishioners follow Earnshaw who “seem[s] to have obtained… a higher knowledge about the workings of God and the nature of the Universe” out into the woods where he establishes a cult based around sex and the “practice [of] being awake in the present moment”. The followers achieve this state by keeping completely still for hours and eventually days, losing themselves as well as their children in the process.
Quatro shows us loss most clearly when she writes about illness and death. In “Here”, a widower named Neil takes his children, Myra and Grady, back to the lake house they once shared with their now-deceased mother, Jocelyn. While at the lake house, Neil looks back over his last days with Jocelyn and discovers how unneeded he felt by his children when Jocelyn was alive.
Later in the book, Jocelyn appears as the narrator in “Georgia The Whole Time” as she and Neil struggle to tell their children she is losing her battle with melanoma. She confesses to imagining cutting out strangers’ insides and stuffing them into her own body, then asks the reader: “Would you think differently about me if you knew I would do this in order to breathe the scent of Grady’s skin for another morning?”
This particular story moved me more than any other in the book. I spent my lunch hour reading it and crying behind its pages. Its emotional resonance has a lot to do with Quatro’s ability to detail all the losses a person who is dying would see before the losses occur. Jocelyn begins to pick out various future wives for Neil from their pool of baby sitters. When her daughter says she wants to wear Jocelyn’s wedding dress when she grows up and gets married, Jocelyn thinks: “Myra loves it now. But I know the only way she’d come to wear it would be as a tribute.”
Quatro’s vibrant language and stinging eye for our deepest and most minute vulnerabilities make her stories shine and hurt. Sometimes strange, often haunting, I Want to Show You More is hard to put down and even harder to forget.