Synopses & Reviews
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother.
But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.
"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. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"American fiction waited a long time for Bonnie Jo Campbell to come along. A lot of us, not only women, were looking for a fictional heroine who would be deeply good, brave as a wolverine, never a cry baby, as able as Sacajawea, with a strong and unapologetic sexuality. We wanted to feel her roots in some ancient story, we wanted Diana the huntress, but not her virginity; we wanted a real human girl who we could believe had been suckled by bears, or wolves. To give us heroines like this, the god finally brought us Bonnie Jo Campbell, one of our most important and necessary writers, and Margo Crane, the central character of Once Upon A River, an outcast, feral beauty who can shoot like Annie Oakley, is her most poignant and mythic creation so far. Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award winner
"A dramatic and rhapsodic American odyssey. A female Huckleberry Finn. A wild-child-to-caring-woman story as intricately meshed with the natural life of the river as a myth....[S]he conveys all that Margo does, thinks, and feels with transfixing sensuous precision, from the jolt of a gun to the muscle burn of rowing a boat against the current to the weight of a man. From killing and skinning game to falling in with outlaws and finding refuge with kind if irascible strangers, Margo's earthy education and the profound complexities of her timeless dilemmas are exquisitely rendered and mesmerizingly suspenseful. A glorious novel destined to entrance and provoke." Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of the National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Women and Other Animals, and the novels Q Road and Once Upon a River. She is the winner of a Pushcart Prize, the AWP Award for Short Fiction, and Southern Review's 2008 Eudora Welty Prize for "The Inventor, 1972," which is included in this collection. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and Ontario Review. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she studies kobudo, the art of Okinawan weapons, and hangs out with her two donkeys, Jack and Don Quixote.