This debut novel begins with news of a death, but soon the dead are sitting up and demanding attention. Ramona must cope with a talkative sister-in-law and her husband, plus her grandparents, all dead, and all moving into her home that looks out on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. She must endure their constant interference with the present. The past comes alive too in the novel's eponymous journal, one written in 1924 by the village historian and sculptor, a relative of Ramona's. Here the past and present are surreally intertwined.
From Publishers Weekly
Ramona Montoya, the main character of this slight but beautifully written first novel set in a dusty, timeless Southwestern town, is a 44-year-old painter whose house is inhabited by a host of dead relatives who speak, make coffee and occasionally borrow her truck. After her brother and sister-in-law are killed when their car hits a cow standing in the middle of the road, Ramona takes charge of her young nephew, Jose. (At the burial, Jose's mother sits up in her coffin and says "Ramona, I want you to take Jose.") Ramona's other brother, Flavio, estranged from his sister, is so unnerved by the ghostly relatives, he gives up on the idea of removing Jose from his strange new home. Ramona's dead grandmother, after clearing the table one night, hands her the journal of Antonio Montoya, another relative and a sculptor of religious statues. The 1924 journal is the story of the village, full of births, deaths, feuds and accidents, and its entries are woven into the narrative as Ramona reads them. While Ramona's story is imbued with her painterly sensibilities, the journal provides glimpses into the sculptor's art, the role of the santos in the lives of some of the villagers and the fate of the statues, which Ramona and little Jose will find. The novel becomes a mystical meditation on the workings of the artistic mind, but it begs for more of a plot. Still, Collignon delivers his own engaging brand of magical realism with a spare style, deadpan humor and bracingly fresh descriptions.
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