Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Fire Sermon

by Jamie Quatro

The highly anticipated, provocative debut novel from the “fearless” (New Yorker) and “distinctive” (San Francisco Chronicle) Jamie Quatro, Fire Sermon charts with bold intimacy and immersive sensuality the life of a married woman in the grip of a magnetic affair.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date November 13, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2898-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date January 09, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2704-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $24.00

About the Book

Can I sing about what’s waiting on
the far side of fidelity?
The wide door-swing, the unfurling sky?

Jamie Quatro’s remarkable first book of stories, I Want to Show You More, published to spectacular reviews, announcing 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.

Tags Literary


“There are books with front doors, through which the reader walks right in, and there are books with side doors. Side door books take more interpretive work, but yield special pleasures. Jamie Quatro’s fantastic new novel, Fire Sermon, is a side door book. The novel delivers its story through a variety of methods: first-person confessions, “fictional” third-person descriptions, letters sent and unsent, emails, questionnaires, Socratic dialogues with the self. Roiling, raw and sensual on the surface, this mazy novel rewards a second reading… The sentences burn with desire and disquiet. The novel is generously condensed, ardently focused, its mechanisms poetic, not expository. In fact, although it is fiction, Fire Sermon reminds me most of confessional poetry, the aim of which is uncompromising honesty and self-exposure. .. You may enter this book through an interest in poetry or theology, but once you are there, it shows you more.”—Amity Gaige, New York Times Book Review

“Startlingly original… a profound, and profoundly strange, meditation on desire and how it connects us to the “eternal.” . . . Quatro makes us feel the absolute necessity of desire.”—Claire Dederer, The Atlantic

“Quatro’s novel, full of vivid, mercurial prose, breathes new life into the subject and sets it gloriously ablaze.”—Claire Luchette, O Magazine

“Charged with erotic energy and an almost mystical yearning, Jamie Quatro’s debut novel, Fire Sermon (Grove Atlantic), is a tour de force exploration of lust, marriage, longing, and love. … 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. … 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.” –Lisa Shea, ELLE

“A powerful psychological meditation on erotic desire… [Quatro’s] descriptions of yearning are beautifully pitched… [Maggie’s] infatuation is grounded in many beautiful and humane observations.”—Johanna Thomas-Corr, London Evening Standard

“Fire Sermon offers a radical, transformative vision of the intersection between faith and desire. It is a book that takes sin seriously—and compels readers to see how eternal concerns can make for great, and disturbing, fiction.” –Nick Ripatrizone, Literary Hub

“Quatro is a true cartographer of desire, showing that the longings of the body and the soul aren’t two autonomous states but constitute a singularly vast and singularly wild territory. Her fiction is sexy, it’s theological, and it’s consistently and surprisingly both at the same time.” –Anthony Domestico, Commonweal

“With short chapters, each packing an emotional and linguistic punch, this book is intensely beautiful.” Ilana Masad, Book Riot

“Switching between erotically charged letters and just as inflamed vignettes (think Dept. of Speculation), this debut novel documents a wild affair. Maggie―wife, mother, and Christian―finds herself soul-searching, confessing, and downright reveling in her passion for a man who’s not her husband. Don’t get too close to the fire.”―Estelle Tang, Elle, “19 of the Best Books to read this Winter”

“Quatro follows her dazzling 2013 short fiction collection with a debut novel that updates the familiar infidelity story. Vivid and intense, Fire Sermon can be read in a single afternoon, its velocity propelled by the extraordinary voice of its narrator. Quatro eschews a traditional, linear chronicle of marriage for a structure that more closely mirrors a questioning mind: a series of flashbacks juxtaposed with flashes forward; bits of dialogue, poetry, theology, and philosophy; and Maggie arguing with herself in a way that is intimate, raw, and psychologically fascinating.”—National Book Review

“In her slim, beautifully combustible first novel, Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro treats the mysteries and complexities of love, marriage, faith and infidelity like the highly flammable subjects they are — elements of light, heat, energy — as fundamental as they are dangerous. With searing prose and a tilted approach, Quatro builds a bonfire from the tiniest sparks of well-honed detail, and this reader was drawn to its flame.” – Stephanie Hunt Special, Charleston Post Courier



“Fire Sermon transcends the familiarity of its subject matter through its formal originality, its erudite meditations on the intersections of religious devotion and erotic desire, and the breathtaking lyricism of Jamie Quatro’s prose, which manages somehow to be both intensely elegiac and as fluent as good conversation…There are so many moments in this fine debut that call to be read and re-read, flipped over and scrutinized—moments of searing, painful truth and gorgeously articulated delusion which ring with their own sort of truth about the lengths to which we will go to make sense of the inexplicable. Isn’t this the task of great fiction?”—Ed Tarkington, Chapter 16

“With Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro challenges the reader to navigate the jumble of desire, religion and love and how perhaps a gripping affair might just be the ultimate salvation of a stalled marriage… a worthwhile and engrossing read.”— Adriana Delgado, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“A curious novel, an extended plea by protagonist Maggie for some means of reconciling her juicy adultery with her worn-out religious faith…The book’s curiousness ignites curiosity, demonstrating why most of us are willing to be gobbled up by the flames of sin at least once in our lives.”—Bethanne Patrick, Literary Hub “15 Books You Should Read This January”

“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.”―Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Affecting and memorable. . . Quatro’s novel will appeal particularly to readers interested in a dissection of how one reconciles belief with desire”—Publishers Weekly

“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…. Besides old-school letters and e-mails, [the] novel is built on Maggie’s journal entries, dialogues with her counselor, poetry, conversations with her daughter’s therapist and prayers. The result is a psychological MRI of a complicated woman seeking to know herself inside and out… a contemporary take on an age-old story.”—Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness

“What an absolutely beautiful and moving book. I started reading Fire Sermon and literally, was cranky when I couldn’t get back to it. The writing is nothing less than masterful. I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Jamie Quatro but now she’s taking my fandom to another level.”―Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn 

“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 Euphoria

“Fire Sermon moved me deeply, provoked me powerfully, and managed to reach parts of me I hadn’t even known were there. This novel stays under the skin. I feel haunted by it, in all the best ways.”―Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams 

“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

“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

“I loved it, and devoured it in one sitting. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful novel. The simplicity of the story sits in perfect counterpoint to the complex narrative structure. It is simultaneously visceral and cerebral, precise and expansive, domestic and metaphysical, plain-speaking and poetic. Quatro’s voice is singular, heartbreaking and gorgeous. This is a novel to be treasured.”―Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane

“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 gave 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 Dear, Thief

Praise for I Want To Show You More:

“[With its] impressive agility and inventiveness . . .I Want to Show You More is an obsessive first collection that feels like a fifth or sixth. It is a dogged, brutally thoughtful piece of work, and gives us a writer of great originality and apparent artistic maturity who seems to have come out of nowhere. . . . Strange, thrilling, and disarmingly honest . . . Quatro hits the right balance, giving us the closet thing I’ve seen in years to Donald Barthelme’s insouciance, sweetness, and ominousness. . . . Provides the most engaging literary treatment of Christianity since O’Connor, without a hint of the condescension the subject often receives in contemporary fiction. . . . [Quatro’s] flights of fancy are never ostentatious or arbitrary; instead they grow naturally out of the emotional and psychological states of her characters. Readers may hope to see more of this hallucinatory mode from her, but—if they’re like me—they will welcome whatever they can get.” —J. Robert Lennon, The New York Times Book Review

“The best stories in Jamie Quatro’s first collection, I Want to Show You More, are about adultery. They are passionate, sensuous, savagely intense, and remarkable for their brave dualism. . . . Moves between carnality and spirit like some franker, modernized Flannery O’Connor tale . . . Quatro has a poet’s compound eye . . . [and] fearless lyricism. . . . Expansive, joyful, with forgiveness supplanting ruination. Who needs the New Testament? In Quatro’s world, hard Genesis is always making way for the softer Song of Solomon: ‘I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’” —James Wood, The New Yorker

“Vivid . . . Arresting . . . Quatro very much establishes her own distinctive voice and style. . . . A luminous collection that announces a unique literary talent. Quatro’s stories dazzle and shine.” —S. Kirk Walsh, San Francisco Chronicle

“Subtle, sexy, and reflective . . . Quatro is incisive on technology and our new varieties of instant gratification. . . . Quatro’s stories [have] led some to compare her work to that of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. I also picked up metal-detector traces of Jayne Anne Phillips . . . and of Lorrie Moore’s pulverizing wit. . . . In order to be good at big things, writes must be good at small ones. Quatro’s details resonate. . . . There’s so much in these stories that’s shocking. Yet there’s so much solace.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Haunting and sharp . . . [reminiscent] of the dark-meets-light style of Lydia Davis or Alice Munro—but it leaves room for zingers, too. Quatro is so good . . . the title of this debut collection isn’t just a tease.” —Julie Vadnal, Elle

“Delicious reading . . . [An] impressive debut about the shortcomings of people who wrestle with angels, and usually lose.” —Amy Gentry, Chicago Tribune

“Shattering and exceptional . . . The effect of this intersection of the domestic with sex and with ecstatic faith was, for me, a freakily new reading experience. . . . Quatro shoves us close to the grotesqueness of our desires. . . . Tense and musical.” —Karen Long, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“Occasionally, a first book of short stories can shake the world awake with its extraordinarily singular vision and voice, reinvigorating language. Jamie Quatro’s I Want to Show You More is such a book—and holy fuck, is it. . . . Startling, heartrending, and extraordinarily sexy . . . [with] allegorical scene[s] worthy of Kafka or Donald Barthelme.” —Baynard Woods, Baltimore City Paper

“Much of the tension in these stories stems from characters realizing that what they’ve long considered God’s plan can theoretically be molded to match their own desires. What Quatro renders so accurately is the power and pain that comes with such a realization. . . . These stories are bold (and wise) in their portrayal of how, when we want to find a sign, we can usually make ourselves find it. Many comparisons will be made between Quatro’s and Flannery O’Connor’s treatments of religion and faith; they are all accurate and deserved. But this book pushes past that inheritance by examining how it holds up it in our time, when we’re effortlessly connected by technology, when affairs (or almost-affairs) can be conducted safely (or almost safely) from hundreds of miles away.” —Jennine Capo Crucet, The L Magazine

“Dark, bizarre, and highly sexual . . . Some stories are uncomfortable, pushing the limit with their sheer oddity and disregard for social norms. But isn’t that the point?” —Lindsay Deutsch, USA Today (3 stars)

“Quatro has accomplished a rare paradox: [her] collection is stitched together and, yet, it’s loose and baggy, letting in a lot of surprise . . . the variety of stories and styles soliciting and intensifying the readers imaginative engagement.” —Nina Schuyler, The Rumpus

“Deeply intriguing . . . Subtly metamorphosing . . . Shimmers with touches of Flannery O’Connor and George Saunders . . . [Quatro’s] compelling moral dilemmas yoke bizarreness with authenticity.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist


Sometimes when the house is empty
I practice saying the words out loud.
Different ways of saying it, depending
On the listener.
I committed adultery,
I say to my mother.
I fell in love with another man,
I say to my best friend.
We fucked, it meant nothing,
I say to Thomas.

It was the best thing,
I say to you. In all my life,
The very best thing.