Once Upon a River: A Novel (Paperback)

Once Upon a River: A Novel By Bonnie Jo Campbell Cover Image

Once Upon a River: A Novel (Paperback)

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"A demonstration of outstanding skills on the river of American literature." —Entertainment Weekly


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, Margo takes to the river in search of her mother with only a biography of Annie Oakley to her name. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to deciding what price she is willing to pay for her choices.



Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of six works of fiction, including American Salvage, finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Once Upon a River, a national bestseller. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, and a Pushcart Prize, she lives outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, with donkeys.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393341775
ISBN-10: 0393341771
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 4th, 2012
Pages: 352
Language: English
Campbell has a ruthless and precise eye for the details of the physical world…An excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom.
— Jane Smiley - New York Times Book Review

The wonder of Once Upon a River is how fresh and weathered it seems at the same time…Bonnie Jo Campbell has built her new novel like a modern-day craftsman from the old timbers of our national myths about loners living off the land, rugged tales as perilous as they are alluring. Without sacrificing any of its originality, this story comes bearing the saw marks of classic American literature, the rough-hewn sister of The Leatherstocking Tales, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Walden…Margo’s hushed voice is so pure, her spirit so indomitable, that you’ll yearn for her to find the freedom she craves.

— Ron Charles - Washington Post

Margo’s struggle to survive proves irresistible, like the tug of the Stark [River] itself.
— The New Yorker

With all the fixings of a Johnny Cash song—love, loss, redemption—Campbell captures these Michiganders and their earthy, brutal paradise in tales rich with insight and well worth the trip.
— Elle

American fiction waited a long time for Bonnie Jo Campbell to come along. A lot of us, not only women, were looking for a fictional heroine who would be deeply good, brave as a wolverine, never a crybaby, as able as Sacagawea, with a strong and unapologetic sexuality. We wanted to feel her roots in some ancient story; we wanted Diana the huntress, but not her virginity; we wanted a real human girl whom we could believe had been suckled by bears, or wolves. To give us heroines like this, the gods finally brought us Bonnie Jo Campbell, one of our most important and necessary writers.
— Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award–winning author of Lord of Misrule

Campbell’s sensuous prose vividly evokes the natural world and brings us inside Margo’s experience of it.
— Boston Globe

Whether upstream or downstream, Campbell's full-blooded young heroine wants to make her own way…By novel’s end, [Margo] emerges as one of the most realistic underage runaways in modern fiction—part Huck Finn, part Annie Oakley, and always herself.
— NPR

An extended slice of life. That’s the key to Campbell’s stories, which eschew easy summaries, easy conclusions, and are all the more astonishing for doing so.
— Los Angeles Times

With this book, Campbell has delivered a gripping story confirming her status as one of the most distinctive storytellers of her generation.
— Dallas Morning News

Keenly observed and described with a tender regard reminiscent of the best of Berry or Stegner.
— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel