Thursday, July 19, 2018

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Margo Crane is not suited for this world.  Sixteen and blessed or cursed with unearthly beauty, she lives with her father on the Stark River which feeds into the Kalamazoo.  She doesn't like the things of modern life.  What she likes is what her grandfather has taught her; the river life, fishing and hunting, making do with what you have and working for what you want.  Margo's mother couldn't take the poverty and the boredom and headed out a few years back.  There's rumors she isn't that far away but no one seems to know.  Margo doesn't speak much but loves all her family and is a crack shot, in fact a sharpshooter.

But tragedy follows her.  Men can't seem to leave her alone due to her beauty.  When a family disagreement over her blows up into a fight that leaves her father dead, Margo isn't sure what to do.  She can't live with her aunt and uncle who have been her second family because that's where the fight occurred and there is bad blood and she doesn't feel safe.

So Margo takes off in her grandfather's old boat which he left her when he died.  She drifts down and into the life of Brian who has been fascinated with her since he came to buy a deer from her father.  She is happy enough there but when Brian is sent to prison, she is once again adrift.  She ends up at Michael's, a man from elsewhere who lives on the river but isn't a riverman.  She makes attempts to find her mother but a letter sent to her when she hears where she might be only says it is not a good time to visit.  When another tragedy occurs, she leaves Michael's house and is on her own again, drifting and making her way.

There are other men, always entranced by Margo's beauty and not content until they possess her.  Margo takes what she can from each man, learning more about how to survive on her own and how to only give what she is ready to give.

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a writer who draws the reader in immediately.  Her novels have won praise including a National Book Finalist nomination for American Salvage.  She was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011 and teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.   She lives with her husband in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Her ability to write about those forgotten by society and those determined to live their lives outside the mainstream experience is the key to her success.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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