Casting off into the gothic backwoods of Once Upon a River is a bracing experience. Its teen heroine Margo Crane is abandoned by her mother, raped by her uncle, and causes untold trouble by her willful shooting habits. Margo idolizes Annie Oakley, and recalls characters from generations of adventure novels, but establishes a vivid and unique resonance of her own. Ultimately, her wild quest for love and freedom is a heartbreakingly beautiful journey for the reader.
— Sara, Atlanta
"A demonstration of outstanding skills on the river of American literature." —Entertainment Weekly
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, Margo takes to the river in search of her mother with only a biography of Annie Oakley to her name. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to deciding what price she is willing to pay for her choices.
About the Author
Bonnie Jo Campbell teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University. The author of Once Upon a River, American Salvage, and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Campbell has a ruthless and precise eye for the details of the physical world…An excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom. — Jane Smiley
The wonder of Once Upon a River is how fresh and weathered it seems at the same time…Bonnie Jo Campbell has built her new novel like a modern-day craftsman from the old timbers of our national myths about loners living off the land, rugged tales as perilous as they are alluring. Without sacrificing any of its originality, this story comes bearing the saw marks of classic American literature, the rough-hewn sister of The Leatherstocking Tales, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walden…Margo’s hushed voice is so pure, her spirit so indomitable, that you’ll yearn for her to find the freedom she craves.
— Ron Charles
Margo’s struggle to survive proves irresistible, like the tug of the Stark [River] itself.
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.
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 crybaby, 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 whom we could believe had been suckled by bears, or wolves. To give us heroines like this, the gods finally brought us Bonnie Jo Campbell, one of our most important and necessary writers. — Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award–winning author of Lord of Misrule
Campbell’s sensuous prose vividly evokes the natural world and brings us inside Margo’s experience of it.
Whether upstream or downstream, Campbell's full-blooded young heroine wants to make her own way…By novel’s end, [Margo] emerges as one of the most realistic underage runaways in modern fiction—part Huck Finn, part Annie Oakley, and always herself.
An extended slice of life. That’s the key to Campbell’s stories, which eschew easy summaries, easy conclusions, and are all the more astonishing for doing so.
With this book, Campbell has delivered a gripping story confirming her status as one of the most distinctive storytellers of her generation.
Keenly observed and described with a tender regard reminiscent of the best of Berry or Stegner.