It's too bad that Oprah's Book Club is now defunct, because Once Upon a River
would make an ideal candidate for it. Whether this strikes you as an enticement or a deterrent depends on your enthusiasm for all-American pluck and grit in the face of obstacles thrown in with a dash of sex and a heap of tragedy, all in service to that glow of redemption waiting at the end. A cynic might claim that Campbell has meticulously crossed off each item on the Oprah-approved checklist: Self-reliant heroine navigating adolescence amidst poverty and family dysfunction? Check. Colorful yet familiar characters either imparting back porch wisdom or attempting to squash our heroine's dreams? Check. Hardscrabble rural setting that nonetheless offers glimpses of beauty to those able to weather its harsh vicissitudes? Check. Yet while Once Upon a River
does occasionally come close to...
Beyond the Book
At various points throughout Once Upon a River
, Margo forages for vegetables, traps muskrats and raccoons, pinpoints the change in seasons by minutely observing foliage, chops firewood, whitewashes her boat, skins fish, and shoots deer. While the men all praise her aim with a rifle and her self-reliance, she is not as much of an anomaly as they might think; Margo is actually an unwitting adherent to the "back to the land" movement that began in the 1960s and has recently enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in various forms (homesteading, permaculture, off-the-grid, the locavore movement).
As the 21st century's love affair with technology becomes less a choice and more a requirement, a growing number of women are bucking (or at least reframing) its grasp...