“A demonstration of outstanding skills on the river of American literature.” —Entertainment Weekly
"Bonnie Jo Campbell has built her new novel like a modern-day craftsman from the old timbers of our national myths about loners living off the land, rugged tales as perilous as they are alluring. Without sacrificing any of its originality, this story comes bearing the saw marks of classic American literature, the rough-hewn sister of The Leatherstocking Tales, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walden.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
In her follow-up to National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Campbell trains her unflinching eye on Margo Crane, a down-on-her-luck 16-year-old living in late 1970s rural Michigan who is, in rapid succession, abandoned by her mother, raped by her uncle, and witness to the shooting death of her father. An accomplished marksman who worships Annie Oakley, Margo takes off, traveling up the Stark River and struggling to survive on her own, having been once again rejected by her mother. Encountering a progression of strangers, both kind and otherwise, Margo is a modern-day pioneer whose steely resolve is matched only by her guarded need for tenderness. Forced to kill a man in a moment of panic, Margo must learn to forgive those who have hurt her in order to forge a new and better life for herself. Working against the backdrop of a beautiful but unforgiving landscape, Campbell juxtaposes spare prose with lush details in this stark chronicle of hardship and splendor, friendship and disappointment, and families undone and reunited, and though the novel occasionally flags under the crushing burden of Margo's unremitting ill fortune, it is, finally, a fine and sobering story with more than a little Winter's Bone style grit in it.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I found this book through a review in Entertainment Weekly. Campbell has written a colorful story as deep and mesmerizing as the rivers Margo travels on.
Once upon a river
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Reminded me a little if my own childhood of hunting and fishing and living on the Browns River.
I'm a guy, and kind of an impersonal distant guy at that. So I can't really say I expected to like a book about a teenage girl making her way into adulthood in rural Michigan. But I read some reviews, attended an interview with the author in Chicago, and was persuaded. Goodness. This is a superior book. It's so good that I need some time to clear my head before I start reading another book. I cared so much about this young woman, I identified so well with her coolness and remoteness, and I was mesmerized by her periodically misdirected desire for love and warmth. It's trite to say I didn't want it to end, so I'll just say that when I came to the end of the book I wanted to wish Margo well in her life. I was grateful that she had the character and fortitude to head in the right direction in life. Yes, I know - it's fiction. But you know what happens with very well-written literary fiction, right? You get caught up in it, you believe it, you're right there with these totally fabricated characters. I have always fondly remembered when I read The Poisonwood Bible followed immediately by A Thousand Acres - I've remembered that as the best reading experience I've ever had. Now I would add Once Upon a River to that short list and only regret that I couldn't have read all three in a row. Once Upon a River makes a person care, feel, and experience exactly what one of the main characters (Smoke) felt. Ah, what a terrific read. Thank you, BJC.