Sunday, November 13, 2011

Once Upon a River, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

The one upside of sitting around and waiting to have this tardy baby is that I've been able to do some reading. I happily finished my stack of books from the library - Toni Morrison's Jazz, Virginia Wolff's To the Lighthouse and Bonnie Jo Campbell's Once Upon a River, most recently. The latter book is an excellent treatise on what not to let happen to your daughter, at least in the eyes if this one expectant mother.

Margo is nearly 15 when the book opens, a beautiful young girl in love with the river and her family's simple, grubby existence along it. She experiences a traumatic event yet, as she is slow to decision and action, she takes a long time to even classify it as such. But once she decides that she has been wronged, her revenge sets off an unforeseen chain of events that sets Margo adrift on her beloved river, roaming up and down it in search of herself and a life that fits her independent spirit.

Margo is, in some ways, a tough character to love. She seems to have completely misplaced her self-preservation instinct, particularly when it comes to dealing with men. She is so casual about her sexuality as to be almost unbelievable, but I suppose it is intended to be a reflection of her inability to value herself. I found it tough to care about a girl who doesn't seem to care about herself, but she has enough hard-chewed charm to make her story worth following. And if, like me, the last time you skinned an animal was in a previous life, you'll likely find the world she lives in to be exotic and captivating, filled with dreams of Annie Oakley and the mysterious ways of stalking herons.

The best thing about the book is Ms. Campbell's writing. She manages to be both stark and evocative, and creates vivid characters. A number of those characters are mothers, and this mother-in-waiting is grateful to learn from their mistakes and their grace.

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma