Once Upon a River Bonnie Jo Campbell might well be called the Bard of Michigan — if only "bard" didn't sound so stuffy and "Michigan" didn't sound so nondescript… Once Upon a River Bonnie Jo Campbell might well be called the Bard of Michigan — if only "bard" didn't sound so stuffy and "Michigan" didn't sound so nondescript… 2011-07-05 Fiction W. W. Norton & Company
Book Review

Once Upon a River (2011)

RIVER OF DREAMS Campbell's novel is a flowing ode to hardworking Americans
RIVER OF DREAMS Campbell's novel is a flowing ode to hardworking Americans
EW's GRADE
A

Details Release Date: Jul 05, 2011; Writer: Bonnie Jo Campbell; Genre: Fiction; Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Bonnie Jo Campbell might well be called the Bard of Michigan — if only ''bard'' didn't sound so stuffy and ''Michigan'' didn't sound so 
 nondescript as a global positioning device to locate such a vivid and mesmerizing novel as Once Upon a River. Fact is, Campbell is a bard, 
a full-throated singer whose melodies are odes to farms and water and livestock and fishing rods and rifles, and to hardworking folks who know the value of life as well as the randomness of life's troubles. (American Salvage, Campbell's excellent 2009 collection of Michigan-made stories, was a National Book Award finalist.)

The author's extraordinary, unfancy protagonist 
is 16-year-old Margo Crane, a young woman who, even 
by YA-lit standards of feistiness and resourcefulness, is a new species of heroine. (By adult-lit standards, she’s downright revolutionary.) Margo contains multitudes: She's a high school dropout and an uncanny marksman who identifies with Annie Oakley; she's been abandoned by her self-absorbed mother; she has the finely honed survival skills of an Indian scout; she barely speaks, like a sprite; she's stubborn and curious and strikingly beautiful; she's forthrightly, unashamedly sexually 
active. After her father dies a violent death — in which 
she, in a way, plays a part — Margo literally paddles life's currents in her beloved late grandfather's boat, making her way along the (fictitious) Stark River, a waterway that flows into Kalamazoo (where the author lives).

What happens to Margo unfolds as a gripping story, old-fashioned in its fullness of event and character 
development. And all the while, an assured Campbell narrates in a graceful, gliding, confident voice 
that steers the action smoothly from one bend in the plot to the next — a 
 demonstration of outstanding skills on the river of American literature. A

Originally posted Jun 22, 2011 Published in issue #1161 Jul 01, 2011 Order article reprints