Monday, October 17, 2011
Book Review: Once Upon a River
Once Upon a River (W. W. Norton) by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a captivating novel that kept me terrified, heart-warmed, and fascinated by a girl who becomes foot-loose on a Michigan river.
Margo Crane and her dad get along pretty well on their own, though Margo misses her mother Still, she’s always had more in common with her father and grandfather, learning to live off the land, to fish, to shoot like her heroine, Annie Oakley. She can get along without all the trappings sixteen year-old girls usually feel they need. Margo isn’t one to talk a lot, and when she’s raped by a neighbor, actually a relative, the secret is kept.
Through a violent and strange turn of events, Margo is on her own. She’s always been as one with the river, and it’s the river that becomes her home. Life is harsh for a young person on her own and she soon finds comfort from someone she’s met before, a man her father had known, and she finds security for a time. She’s able to do what she loves–hunt and fish. When that situation turns sour, Margo is on her own again, briefly.
Margo meets people with whom she seeks refuge, but the past has a way of catching up and when that happens, she is again alone. She meets an old, dying man, and forms a bond, not unlike she’d had with her grandfather before his death.
Once Upon a River is remarkable on many levels. Hunting lore, skinning animals, cooking wild game–Margo is a master at these skills. Campbell has done her homework–most readers will learn more about living in the wild than they ever wanted to know. I found myself caught up in the daily living struggles of this young woman, cheering her on when things got tough, bursting with pride when she created solutions, but all the while terrified of what could happen next. I was riveted to this story from the first page to when I reluctantly turned the last.