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, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother.
But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to ask herself what price she is willing to pay for her choices.
Once Upon a River
When Margo arrived at the marijuana house, the midnight crickets were screaming. On her twelve-hour, thirty-some-mile trip downstream she had passed swampy places croaking with bullfrogs, but here the tree frogs chirped like insects. Margo pulled her boat onto the sand and climbed up the bank. The place was overgrown, spooky in its neglect. The dock was pulled out of the water, and grass and weeds poked up through the slats. Plywood was nailed over several of the windows, and glass shards in the dirt reflected moonlight. Both doors had padlocks on them. She lit the kerosene lantern she'd swiped from Brian's cabin before heading down the river. She held the lantern up and read the signs posted on both doors: KEEP OUT NO TRESPASSING, with THIS MEANS YOU spray-painted beneath. Junior's pot leaf had been painted over. When neither of the uncovered windows would budge, she began to pry at one of the pieces of plywood.
Before coming down the river, she had hung ...
While Once upon a River does occasionally come close to leaning on clichés, it also boasts a narrative momentum and attention to nature that complements those patches of well-worn familiarity. In fact, reading this novel often feels like cozying up with a comfortable quilt, one with a few burrs sticking out just to keep things interesting.
(Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Full Review (1146 words).
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 ...
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