Charlie Sherman’s been accused of worse things than being stupid. His wife, in fact, kicked him out of the house for being a failure as both a writer and father, though that porn he inadvertently set as the desktop on his computer certainly didn’t help matters.
While at a diner trying to figure out exactly what his next step is Charlie meets a mysterious stranger known only as ‘Trouble.’ Despite that ominous moniker, Trouble actually hooks Charlie up with a job finishing the massive, jumbled manuscript a recently deceased local professor never quite completed.
As a bonus, Charlie can also live in the basement of the professor’s widow’s house while working on the project. Life may have handed Charlie lemons, but he’s found a way to make lemonade. Yeah, if only it was that easy.
First there’s the matter of the manuscript’s topic, the horrific events of 1912 in which the whites of Forsyth County, Georgia engaged in intimidation, arson, and lynching to drive the black population from their homes. Much of the resulting “vacant” property was subsequently seized by white families, one parcel of which is now worth nearly $20 million dollars in the highly upscale – and lily white – Forsyth. When in the course of working on the book Charlie discovers the rightful heir to that property things get seriously complicated, with Charlie put in the position of either walking away or opening an enormous can of worms.
There’s also the highly disturbing fact the contract Charlie signed regarding the book project seems to be changing on its own; he doesn’t remember there originally being a clause in there about the project being a success or he would forfeit his life, and he’s damn sure he signed in ink, not blood. What has Charlie gotten himself into?
Like his first novel, Chain Gang Elementary, Jonathan Grant’s highly ambitious and engaging second novel, Brambleman, once again took me somewhere I wasn’t quite expecting. Though the book presents a tremendous amount of historical information about the events of 1912, by constructing the story around the premise Charlie is himself working on a text about the events – a book within the book – it all flows naturally. Indeed, as he did in Chain Gang Elementary Grant demonstrates once again that he is particularly adept at weaving hard-edged sociopolitical topics into the fabric of his fictional narrative without being heavy-handed, never sacrificing his storytelling to “just the facts.”
Brambleman goes far beyond “just the facts” actually, as there is a decidedly supernatural element to the tale, one that becomes more pronounced as the story unfolds. In fact, before you know it Grant has taken what initially appeared to be the simple story of a down on his luck writer and turned it into a reflection on personal spirituality, vengeance, and destiny. Because of the topics it touches on, both fact and fiction, Brambleman is not exactly a “beach read” kind of book. What Brambleman is, however, is an extremely well-written book that will both entertain and inform. And you can’t really ask for more than that now, can you?