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American Salvage (Made in Michigan Writers Series) Paperback – March 10, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The houses are ramshackle, the trucks hard-used, the weather extreme. The men, clad in shabby camouflage, are battered and scarred. They labor at dangerous, soul-killing jobs; hunt; drink too much; and stand by their loved ones no matter how flat-out crazy they are (or they think about killing them). Ditto for the women. Money is tight; the old ways and the precious wildlife are disappearing; loneliness is a plague; and the meth-cookers keep burning down the house. Welcome to rural Michigan, Campbell’s home ground, and a story collection of rare impact. These fine-tuned stories are shaped by stealthy wit, stunning turns of events, and breathtaking insights. Terrible injuries, accidental and otherwise, leave people and animals in misery, but they are salvaged, maybe even healed. Against all odds, salvation counterbalances loss and despair in unexpected ways in this small place of big feelings, where everyone is yoked together for better and worse, and where, as one persistent survivor observes, “what looked like junk to most people could be worth real money.” Campbell’s busted-broke, damaged, and discarded people are rich in longing, valor, forgiveness, and love, and readers themselves will feel salvaged and transformed by this gutsy book’s fierce compassion. --Donna Seaman


"American Salvage is not a book for the cowardly. These daring stories, these desperate characters, would just as soon steal your wallet, break your heart or punch you in the gut than openly admit that redemption is possible during these dark times. But it is just this improbable hope that makes her work brilliant. This is Bonnie Jo Campbell at her bravest and best." --Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly

"A strong collection. The pieces are rich in original detail, and highly atmospheric, while maintaining a satisfying sense of familiar territory, local voices." --Laura Kasischke, author of The Life before Her Eyes

"The effect of American Salvage is that Campbells Michigan lingers and cannot be ignored or forgotten." --Chicago Literary Scene Examiner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Made in Michigan Writers Series
  • Paperback: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Wayne State University Press; 1St Edition edition (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814334121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814334126
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,537,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Campbell grew up on a small Michigan farm in a house her grandfather built. When she left home for the University of Chicago, her mother rented out her room; she has since hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle, and traveled with the circus. She has led adventure tours in Russia and Eastern Europe. After earning a master's degree in mathematics, Campbell began writing fiction. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Western Michigan University, and now lives in Kalamazoo.

Her most recent book is the collection, American Salvage, about which Alan Cheuse, NPR reviewer has said, "In these stories about cold, lonely, meth-drenched, working-class Michigan life, there's a certain beauty reaching something like the sublimity of a D.H. Lawrence story." She is also the author of Women & Other Animals (University of Massachusetts, 2000), and the novel Q Road (Scribner, 2003). She has won the AWP award for short fictiona Pushcart prize, the Eudora Welty Prize (2009), and she was named a Barnes & Noble Great New Writer. Her fiction has recently been published in Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Alaska Review, Boulevard, and Witness. The New York Times has called her stories "Bitter but sweetened by humor," and Publisher's Weekly said Campbell details, "domestic worlds where Martha Stewart would fear to tread." She feeds donkeys and practices kobudo weapons arts in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Visit her website at

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By John P. Beck on May 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
I just finished Bonnie Jo Campbell's latest book of short stories, AMERICAN SALVAGE (Wayne State University Press, 2009). This is a fascinating book full of 3-D characters who jump off the page. These are people trying to get by, and many times not succeeding, in a world where other people seem to have it all. There are farm families looking for the next way to break even. There are drunks and drug users who try to balance out their lives through violence or love. There are many who remember their best days which are firmly behind them, sometimes in high school, sometimes much earlier. Many of the characters are workers though some not regularly. For others, their steady jobs in the papermills or other factories are far more regular then their off-duty time. My favorite is the dark "Storm Warning" where an accident leaves a man to play out all his anxieties and fears in the midst of a gathering monster of a thunderstorm. Though the title is taken from one of the stories in the collection, it as well could signify the way these well- developed characters and their lives are tossed about to become a flotsam and jetsam of modern life. Everyone in Michigan may enjoy the tie some stories have to the greater Kalamazoo area that Bonnie Jo Campbell calls home. Add this one to the summer (or late spring) reading pile.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jake Olson on May 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
Here's the straight poop, as they say: American Salvage is a really great read. I could just end it there, but that doesn't feel like enough. Okay, Campbell's characters are really intriguing, and she puts them in strange and sometimes bizarre situations that get at some pretty big human truths. The truths . . . no matter who we are we are prone to addiction, wanting safety, and wanting to love and be loved. We are afraid and we are brave. We get ourselves behind hopeless plans, and sometimes find they are the only plans for us . . . and sometimes we make them work. All of these truths are truths we already know, but in the hands of a story teller like Campbell . . . well, she just takes the reader on a really cool trip. I'm just fascinated by the situation in her "Storm Warning" when the main character, nearly crippled from a boating accident, can't believe that his girlfriend of six months saved his life, rescued him from drowning. So pig-headed and afraid is he that when he returns from the hospital, he drives her away. He finds himself alone in a hospital bed in his house, watching as a horrendous storm blows in, knocking out power around the lake. Helpless, unable to even get a glass of water, he swallows his Vicodin with saliva. He's so utterly alone . . . and he's put himself there. I mean, you have to buy the book just to see how that one turns out. You should buy the book, too, because Bonnie Jo is a Michigan writer. Seriously, you won't be disappointed. Campbell is simply a great writer worth reading.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. Jennings on June 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
In the best collections of short stories the setting becomes a character as well-realized as any of the human characters. In "American Salvage," turn of the 20th Century rural Michigan, home to big, beautiful snakes, white ermine, and deer that dance across the lake, is the backdrop for people with lives of often self-inflicted drama they would never recognize as particularly dramatic. For them it is more an ache in the chest, a wistful longing for a little bit more for folks who don't have a lot and don't expect much. These sometimes explosive tales are told in an understated fashion that keep the characters believable. At the same time the revealing details, like platinum at the core of a piece of scrap metal, give the collection a savage beauty.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've always been drawn to stories about people down on their luck, people living in small towns from which the good jobs have long ago fled. I like Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson. I like Steinbeck. I like Carolyn Chute's novels about the Maine that exists far from the coastal rim of lobsters and summer cottages. So why didn't I like "American Salvage," a book set in the bypassed little towns of Michigan, as much as I thought I would?

To be sure, the world of mobile homes, clandestine meth labs, broken families, and low wage jobs that Campbell depicts is convincing. Some of the stories, like "Trespasser" and "The Inventor," are a pleasure to read because they are so tightly constructed, with a little ration of events you don't expect.

What I found disappointing is the lack of detail. There is little in these stories, other than some place names (and perhaps family names, I don't know) that ties them to a particular place. They could be set in rural or small town Northern- Climate-Anywhere. I think this is because much of what happens in these stories is conveyed by interior monologue---that is, characters puzzling things out in their heads. The landscape is just a kind of set: auto body shops, struggling farms, and so on. You can close your eyes and see it before you ever open the book.

Campbell's portrayal of the characters in "American Salvage" is sympathetic. You understand that she want to convey their pain and their dignity. (There is little happiness to convey.) However, in the end, she gives us characters that are more successful in representing a Condition (poverty, lack of opportunity) than they are in making us believe in them as complicated human beings.

M. Feldman
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