cover image Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River

Bonnie Jo Campbell. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-07989-0

In her follow-up to National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Campbell trains her unflinching eye on Margo Crane, a down-on-her-luck 16-year-old living in late 1970s rural Michigan who is, in rapid succession, abandoned by her mother, raped by her uncle, and witness to the shooting death of her father. An accomplished marksman who worships Annie Oakley, Margo takes off, traveling up the Stark River and struggling to survive on her own, having been once again rejected by her mother. Encountering a progression of strangers, both kind and otherwise, Margo is a modern-day pioneer whose steely resolve is matched only by her guarded need for tenderness. Forced to kill a man in a moment of panic, Margo must learn to forgive those who have hurt her in order to forge a new and better life for herself. Working against the backdrop of a beautiful but unforgiving landscape, Campbell juxtaposes spare prose with lush details in this stark chronicle of hardship and splendor, friendship and disappointment, and families undone and reunited, and though the novel occasionally flags under the crushing burden of Margo's unremitting ill fortune, it is, finally, a fine and sobering story with more than a little Winter's Bone%E2%80%93style grit in it. (July)