Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review: Madewell Brown

Summary: As recorded in Rick Collignon’s second novel, Perdido, a tall black man with one arm longer than the other walked into Guadalupe, New Mexico one morning about 50 years ago, stayed pretty much to himself for seven years, and then walked back out of town. No one knew who he was or what became of him. Now, as his last act, an old man named Ruffino Trujillo tells his grown son Cipriano a story about what became of the black man. After Ruffino’s death, Cipriano discovers an old canvas bag bearing the name of Madewell Brown. Inside are a hand-carved doll, an old blanket, an unlabeled photo of a Negro League baseball team, and a small, yellowing envelope that was never posted. Thinking it the least he can do, Cipriano mails the letter. When it arrives in Cairo, Illinois, it comes into the hands of a young woman named Rachael, who believes it is from her lost grandfather. She believes this because of all that she’s been told by the raggedy old man who taught her everything: Obie Poole, who was Madewell’s friend and the orphaned Rachael’s anchor, the man who gives this eloquent novel its authentic sense of history lived. Drawn magically forward on Rick Collignon’s direct and haunting prose, we follow Rachael to Guadalupe in search of her own identity and we watch as Cipriano tries to make sense of the story his father told him about a dead man who didn’t belong there. This fourth installment in Collignon’s beloved Guadalupe series is as magical as its predecessors, as emotionally honest, as surprising — and it firmly establishes Rick Collignon as a master American storyteller. -- Unbridled Books

I consider myself a pretty big fan of Unbridled Books. It seems like every Unbridled book that I've read, I've enjoyed; and the latest one, MADEWELL BROWN by Rick Collignon, is no exception. This book isn't very long, a little over 200 pages, but it does leave a big impression on the reader.

Now here's my issue: I have been putting off writing this review for a week now because I'm having a very hard time articulating my feelings about this novel. I realize that sounds like a negative thing, but it isn't. I really did like this book -- a lot, but I just can't get my hands around why I enjoyed it so much. I'm venturing to say that it was all about the way Mr. Collignon told this story.

The basic premise of this story is interesting, but I don't know if I would have picked up this book on that alone. An old man tells his son the story of a black man who showed up in Guadalupe 50 years ago -- Madewell Brown. When the old man dies, his son Cipriano finds a duffel bag with Brown's possessions including an old letter that he decides to mail. Rachel, a young woman who believes she is Brown's granddaughter, receives the letter and sets out for Guadalupe to learn more about her past.

There are really two separate stories being told in this novel -- Rachel's search for information about her grandfather and Cipriano's attempt to resolve questions about his father's story about Brown. Both stories are interesting in their own right and contain just enough of a mystery to keep the reader interested; however, I thought the beauty of the novel was how Collignon wove these two stories and the characters together. Both Rachel and Cipriano were each trying to discover the truth, and I loved how the author took turns telling their stories while also showing their individual struggles.

I truly believe that Mr. Collignon is a fabulous writer! I thought his descriptions of New Mexico were perfect. You could not only get a sense for what the land looked like, but you could almost feel and even smell the town of Guadalupe. I also really appreciated the honesty in this novel -- both in the story and the characters and their actions. I thought he did a wonderful job of developing the characters, and I have to admit that they have remained in my mind for many days.

MADEWELL BROWN is the fourth book in Collignon's Guadalupe series. I haven't read the first three to compare them against this one; however, I am interested to go back and learn more about this town and its inhabitants. I realized that there were references in this book to characters from the prior novels, and I'm curious to learn more about them. But having said that, MADEWELL BROWN definitely stands on its own. In fact, I had no idea that this novel was part of a series until I began looking for more information about Mr. Collignon and his books. I definitely intend to read the entire series, and I am so excited that the first book, THE JOURNAL OF ANTONIO MONTOYA, is being reintroduced by Unbridled in Fall 2009.

A big thanks to my friends at Unbridled Books for sending me an ARC of MADEWELL BROWN.


bermudaonion said...

Sounds like a great story with great writing. Thanks for the review.

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

Sounds great! I'll be looking for this one. I love a good series!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, the book sounds great!

I'm discovering that reviews for GOOD books (as opposed to books I like) are much harder to write. I think I hold my reviews of these books to higher standards. Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one that sometimes has difficulty with writing these.

Beth F said...

This sounds worth reading. I kind of have to read series in order, so I think I'll look for the first one.

S. Krishna said...

What a great review! I wasn't sure about this one from the description but after reading your review, I definitely want to give it a try. Thanks!