The river is no paradise, with factories like the one founded by Margo’s beloved grandfather and run by her uncle polluting both the water and the air. Margo, though, young, innocent and in danger, accepts that this fallen world is hers. She defends her right to make her own decisions, and even when they are bad decisions Campbell is clear they are the only ones she could make.... [Campbell's novel is] an excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom.
Jane Smiley - New York Times Book Review
For many chapters this is a sad, harrowing story, but Campbell doesn’t leave us there. Margo’s hushed voice is so pure, her spirit so indomitable, that you’ll yearn for her to find the freedom she craves, along with a stretch of clean water. Once Upon a River makes you realize with a stab of regret just how cramped and homogeneous our lives and our expectations of others are. I hope Margo’s out there somewhere skinning a catfish and cooking it on a hickory stick. It’s a hard life, to be sure, but this novel is a celebration of that possibility and its brutal costs.
Ron Charles - Washington Post
If this sounds a bit like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the comparison is, perhaps, inevitable: Put a teenager on a river, and that's what you get. Yet Campbell has something less resolved in mind here, not a picaresque journey, not even a moral awakening, but a coming-of-age in the most concrete sense.
David Ulin - Los Angeles Times
Once Upon a River, Campbell’s second novel, picks up where American Salvage left off. But...this is a sweeter, more magical note in Campbell’s western Michigan mythology. Set in the late 70s, the deceptively simple premise—a sixteen-year-old girl on a river—draws in the reader. Lush descriptions of western Michigan’s Stark River dominate the opening...and dreamlike prose flows along the banks and down the river.... The concrete details are grounding but made extraordinary by Campbell’s musical syntax.
Josh Cook - Iowa Review
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.
Natash Clark - Elle
Margo has adventures marked by sameness instead of variety. Essentially similar events recur throughout the novel, sapping it of initial narrative momentum. These include occurrences both major...and comparatively trivial....Campbell could have called the novel "Twice upon a River.
John G. Rodwan, Jr. - OregonLive.com
This second novel by National Book Award finalist Campbell (American Salvage) is set in Murrayville, a rural Michigan town far removed from the modern world. Inhabitants have lived off the Stark River for generations, including 16-year-old Margo Crane's family. She's been taught the best fishing spots and knows the hidden dangers downstream from the Murray Metal Fabricating Plant. Her carefree existence ends when her mother, a depressed alcoholic, leaves town, and Margo is raped by her uncle Cal. Margo's unique revenge leads to her father's death, a tragic event that nevertheless sets her free from being at the mercy of the Murrays. Equipped with ammunition, food, her father's ashes, and a pink envelope with her mother's return address, she takes her father's boat downstream, determined to find her mother. Margo survives by hunting, fishing, and garden pilfering and by distrusting people. Her river odyssey ultimately leads to self-preservation on her terms. Verdict: A truthful and deeply human story that pulls us in and won't let go. Readers looking for superior fiction are in for an uplifting, first-rate story. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
(Starred review.) Margo’s earthy education and the profound complexities of her timeless dilemmas are exquisitely rendered and mesmerizingly suspenseful. A glorious novel destined to entrance and provoke.
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