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Friday, September 9, 2011

Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River

Bonnie Jo Campbell
Norton, 2011

Margo Crane is just a girl when her depressed mother abandons her, but she never really felt the absence since she had her father’s extended family living just across the Stark River. Margo’s father struggles to raise her the best he can, but he works long hours at the family factory and leaves Margo on her own much of the time. Margo’s beloved grandfather taught her to shoot and hunt and also bequeathed her his beautiful teak boat, so Maggie spends her days practicing her sharpshooting skills and hunting animals out of season. She loves spending time with her cousins and busy aunt, who nurtures Margo just like one of her own, but a tragic sequence of events ends that relationship and forces Margo to set out on the river alone in her boat, to try to find her mother after all these years.

Margo is an unforgettable character in her own way, but she often proves to be her own worst enemy. She understandably has trust issues with men, but then finds herself drawn to them and lets them control her life in order to have some stability and material comforts. The north Michigan setting is harsh one, especially in the wilderness areas that Margo travels in order to avoid people, but this also means that she is at risk herself. Sometimes I wasn’t sure of Margo’s motivations; her reasoning was flawed at times and made for bad choices. Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse for her, it does, which makes for some depressing reading. Things do look better for her at the end, however, but the conclusion may be too open-ended for those of us who like things to finish neatly wrapped up.


Other novels by this author:
Q Road (2002)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)
Reaching her sixteenth year in the harsh Ozarks while caring for her poverty-stricken family, Ree Dolly learns that they will lose their house unless her bail-skipping father can be found and made to appear at an upcoming court date.

Tender as Hellfire by Joe Meno (1999)
A poignant and insightful portrait of life on America's social and economic fringe follows Dough and Pill, two brothers growing up in a seedy trailer park, who struggle to make some positive sense out of their difficult lives.

The Edge of Winter by Luanne Rice (2007)
Neve Halloran and her teenage daughter, Mickey, struggle to build a new life together amid the harsh beauty of a wildlife sanctuary in Rhode Island's South County.

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