- Hardcover: 348 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (July 5, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780393079890
- ISBN-13: 978-0393079890
- ASIN: 0393079899
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Once Upon a River: A Novel Hardcover – July 5, 2011
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“It is, rather, an excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom.” (New York Times Book Review)
“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 Sacagawea, 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)
“Campbell is a bard, a full-throated singer whose melodies are odes to farms and water and livestock and fishing rods and rifles, and to hardworking folks who know the value of life as well as the randomness of life's troubles.” (Lisa Schwarzbaum - Entertainment Weekly)
“...the book is a violent but inspiring tale packed with colorful river dwellers, a working-class community of power company and metal workers, farmers, hunters and housewives....Campbell has created a character with an iron gut and a heart to match, recalling powerful heroines like Clara of Joyce Carol Oates' A Garden of Earthly Delights and Ree of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone.” (Liz Colville - NPR.org)
“This is a splendid story of survival in extremis, with a searingly original heroine.” (Parade)
“With all the fixings of a Johnny Cash song―love, loss, redemption―Campbell captures these Michiganders and their earthy, brutal paradise in tales rich with insight and well worth the trip.” (Natasha Clark - Elle)
“Mark Twain owns America's rivers, and writers who venture out on those waters are obliged to acknowledge his dominion. Bonnie Jo Campbell's tough and confident Once Upon a River, about a runaway teenager on Michigan's waterways, pays due homage to the bard of the Mississippi, but the novel also tells its own captivating story” (Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal)
“Starred Review. 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. …she 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)
About the Author
Bonnie Jo Campbell teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. The author of Once Upon a River and American Salvage, she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is the story of Margo Crane, a young woman who lives near a river in a rural area of Michigan in the 1970's. But Margo, who is about 15 when the story begins, is no ordinary teenager. She can shoot, hunt, skin an animal, and does not appear to be afraid of much. Margo will need these skills when she finds herself forced to assert her independence earlier than most teenagers do.
Be aware that this is not really a plot-driven book. This is a painting with moving characters. The backdrop of the river provides a rich canvas on which the author can place Margo and the various people she meets. As she searches for something that she has lost, she experiences fear and violence; and like many young women of her age, she often mistakes sex for love.
There were times when I struggled with this book. It is a heavy story and doesn't start to show some rays of sunshine until the very end. However, the deeper themes explored in this book are worth sticking with it. It is truly a unique story of growing up, and it raises the very legitimate question of whether we all need to have the suburban house and picket fence to be happy. The book also explores how judgmental we can be about the way that others choose to live, simply because they are different from us. The characters in this book find contentment all around them just by paying attention to life. And these are just some of the issues explored; in reality there is a kaleidoscope of concepts from which to choose for further examination after closing the book.
This is a strong recommend, but with the caveat that this is not a "beach read". This is an intense book that will keep you thinking. I know that Margo will be on my mind for quite awhile.
Fond memories of Kingsolver, Katniss, Winter's Bone, Huck Finn, My Side of the Mountain and Anne Rice's Belinda were all stirred up as I read Once Upon A River. I am not saying this book is rehash. It is just that I think if you like any of those things you will like this book too. I just finished the book on my kindle last night and I loved it. I think I am going to reread it. I can't even tell you the last time I reread a book right away.
The setting is the river. The river is in Michigan. The main character, Margo, is a teenager for the entire book. Most of the other characters that she interacts with in the book are adults. This is not to say that they are grown-ups, because that would be false.
A strong theme in the book and something that has been on my mind lately is teenagers and senior citizens interacting. I've been watching the young aids at my grandmother's nursing home and even the seniors and teenagers working together at my local McDonalds. This is a fascinating dynamic that this author explores here.
Guns and Annie Oakley play a huge part but don't be put off by that if you're not into guns.
Margo sort of is the river. Or the river is so much a part of her that they blend together. She ebbs and flows through events rather than being completely present sometimes. The character is completely believable but it still frustrated me at times. I wanted her to make better choices but I understood why she did what she did. Just because the character's motivation is believable doesn't make it acceptable. I mean I got left off at a very troubling dock at the end of this book. The next few months and years for Margo are probably going to be really ugly. That is partly why the ending of the book is going to go either way for readers. Am I supposed to jump into that filthy water and try to help her? It's not like she listens to sense. Is it possible going with the flow for her could result in a happy ending years down the road? I want answers!
I love a strong woman character and I love books where characters have to use survival skills and I love books with steamy sex scenes and I like to spend time in places I'll probably never get to in real life. But you could argue that Margo is often not working from a position of strength, sex in this book is often if not always, inappropriate or down right rape/wrong and this river for all the passion that Margo feels for it, is a polluted poison ivy filled depressing place. But yet I am looking forward to diving back in there. Why?
Spoiler alert from here on.
Things I `d love to talk about at book club: Was Michael a Unitarian? I'm guessing yes. One of my favorite scenes is when she has no desire to eat any more stolen vegetables after eating the entire jar of jam. Perfect! The scene with Smoke in the river, again, perfect. Huck Finn, and the role of the Indian and the role of the black man. What would happen when what's his face gets out of jail? And guessing the next few months and years. And what was she thinking when she hid and watched her mother?