It’s no secret that I love the Bookmobile, and no secret that I love a great book written by a New Mexico author. Last month I picked up Rick Collignon’s debut novel, “Journal of Antonio Montoya” from the regional shelf, thinking that this slim book might be the perfect thing to carry on an airplane to keep me from getting too homesick when I traveled to Atlanta.
So, now I’m home from a week selling Pick Up Sticks jewelry in Atlanta, and I’m blown away by Collignon’s amazing little book. It’s set in the quintessential northern New Mexico village (Questa maybe? Mora?) and begins, as all great stories do, with the ghost of Loretta Montoya sitting up in her coffin to boss her sister-in-law Ramona into taking care of Loretta’s little Jose. I love a good ghost story, mostly because I love a good ghost.
I’m pretty sure they’re everywhere – my Aunt Ruby sat on the end of my bed one March night trying to get me to give her my very recently deceased Aunt Margaret’s red Nine West pumps. Aunt Ruby finally left me alone, but only after ten minutes of my arguing that she couldn’t have the pumps since she too was dead. She was so insistent – “I was with Margaret when she bought those red shoes at the outlet mall in Santa Fe. We fought over them then, and I want them now!” I had a beautiful girl stroke my hair at the St. Elmo, an ancient hotel in Ouray, and then had the hotel staff confirm the next day that she wanders the halls around midnight, looking for friendly folks with which to visit. I had. . .well, I probably should stop with the ghost tales – there are those of you who would think I’m a little nuts. But I do love a good ghost.
I think the dead are generally a friendly lot In Collingnon’s novel, they’re also quite entertaining. Ramona goes home from her brother’s and his wife’s funeral to find her great-grandmother (long dead) in the kitchen making beans and chile and sopaipillas. When little Jose asks the ghost if she’s always been there, she replies, “No, mi hito, your grandfather and I have been away. But never too far away. . .”
There’s a cranky brother who gets reproached by the great-grandfather, Epolito, into irrigating the dry bean fields, a tortilla-making disordered sister-in-law Martha, lots of visiting in the kitchen with the ghosts, great food (cooked by the ghosts, of course), and the journal. One night Ramona’s great-grandmother gives her the 1924 journal of Antonio Montoya, a relative who recorded the history of the village and who also, much to the eventual chagrin of the Catholic church, made magical santos for the villagers.
I loved this funny and enlightening book by an author I had never hard of before. It was full of everything a great New Mexico novel should have, and when the ghosts finally decide to depart, Ramona’s life is changed by both the journal and their loving presences. Next time you’re in the Bookmobile, pick up a copy. Or order it from Amazon. You won’t regret it. Take it with you on a trip out of the state. It will remind you why you love it here.