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American Salvage Paperback – December 14, 2009
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*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Campbell’s an American voice―two parts healthy fear, one part awe, one part irony, one part realism.”
- Los Angeles Times
“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.”
- Chicago Tribune
“Starred Review. These fine-tuned stories are shaped by stealthy wit, stunning turns of events, and breath-taking insights. 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 the gutsy book’s fierce compassion.”
“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
“At their best these stories reflect what Robert Lowell refers to as ‘the grace of accuracy,’ which might simply be a way of saying that the voice overall convinces at every turn. By voice I mean personality, and these quirky, surprising, sometimes arcane and visceral and big-hearted stories resonate in ways that keep me nodding. . . . I love the risk of each story and how, in the midst of hilarity, a much more serious concern unfolds so that I’d find myself both laughing out loud and squeezing my heart dry simultaneously.”
- Jack Driscoll, author of How Like an Angel
“The effect of American Salvage is that Campbell’s Michigan lingers and cannot be ignored or forgotten.”
- Chicago Literary Scene Examiner
“‘Beware ye who enter here,’ and yet you should and must because the work is so fine and truthful and deeply human, And you will surely know yourself and your world better for having come.”
- Small Press Review
“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
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Of the 14 stories, I scored only 4 as being approximately average ("C"). The rest scored "B" or "A" -- which is pretty good, in my experience of reading books of short stories. I did not rate any in the "D" or "F" range.
My favorite story: "The Inventor, 1972"
Others that are almost as good: Bringing Belle Home; King Coles' American Salvage; Fuel for the Millennium
Least favorite: "The Trespasser" . Too short to develop any significant action, event, character, or reason for being. Sort of a flash-in-the-pan event, contrasting a middle-class girl's life with a vagrant meth-head girl's life. Not a bad idea, but an idea that needs further development.
The book's cover deserves mention: excellent design/photograph. Don't know if this photo was simply "found" and used by the designer, or if the photo was "commissioned" for the book. (I have no idea how these details are carried out). But, the cover photo, with its sepia tone (overall) and the red dress "popping" on the woman in the foreground (with her unusual, stiff, stance) is quite arresting (for some reason). I picture it as corresponding to the story "The Yard Man". I keep looking at it for some reason. Odd, but true.
Campbell's currency is the tragedy of everyday life, of people living on the margins of society, teetering toward financial and personal ruin. Meth, alcohol, crime and violence all play their part, and many of the characters are reminiscent of people I know, family members and old friends long gone. There is a indisputable honesty and truth to these stories, and though they might not always hit every beat, they always vividly bring their characters to life.
Like other readers, I am reminded of Denis Johnson's beautiful Jesus' Son (probably my favorite book of all time), although there is no central narrator to tie the stories together. Campbell's use of language and the original lives and situations she crafts are nearly as good as Johnson's, and each story ends on an emotional swell that sticks with you long after you've finished it.
Campbell has lived among these people. Hell, probably many of them are friends of hers. And she sees value in these beaten down people consigned to the junkyards of American society. She knows God doesn't make junk. She looks for the core, for the valuable, for the soul. She looks for the salvageable. This will be a hard sell to recommend. The subject is just too blatantly bleak. But this woman can write! - Tim Bazzett, author of PINHEAD: A LOVE STORY