Once Upon a River (Campbell) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Once Upon a River:

1. How would you describe Margo Crane—what inner qualities enable her to leave home at 16 and survive a journey on the river? As a reader, do you find yourself connecting with her? Or is she too stoic and taciturn to fully engage your emotions? 

2. In what way has her mother's abandonment of her shaped Margo's character? 

3. Margo's initial reaction to her rape is to wonder whether somehow she was at fault. Do you think her response is typical of rape victims? Had you been a friend or family member, what would you tell her?

4. Is Margo responsible for her father's death?

5. How is this a coming of age story? What, by the end, has Margo learned during the course of her adventures? Does she learn anything? Has she grown or matured?

6. What do you make of Margo's sexual experiences? Is she overly compliant? Is her moral compass askew—in other words, is she morally compromised? Or is Margo a sturdy pragmatist, doing what she needs to survive? Or neither? What does the book suggest about moral clarity? Is there a different code of behavior in the wild than in society?

7. What about the men? Does Brian, for instance, have genuine concern for Margo's welfare, or is he merely an opportunist, taking whatever pleasure presents itself? How does Brian leave Margo exposed to the lusts of other men? What do you think of her relationship with Smoke?

8. Has Campbell presented us with stereotypes of men, or has she created them as distinct indviduals revealing a wide variety of behavior? What do you think?

9. In her interaction with Michael, Margo says she was "feeling the same urgency she felt when she had a buck in her sights." Why does Campbell make this connection between sex and violence—what could she be suggesting about how the two human activities are related?

10. Talk about the book's title. What is the thematic significance of the river? What other works can involve a boat or ship and a body of water—ocean or river? What stands behind the metaphor?

11. Do you know the story of Annie Oakley? Why does Margo model herself after Oakley—what is the link between her and Oakley?

12. Margo is on the archetypal quest of a young hero (in this case, heroine). She is in search of her mother. What does the mother represent (young males typically search for fathers)?  What do you think of Margo's mother once she fiinds her? For Margo, was the finding worth the journey?

13. What's to become of Margo? What do you predict for her? What do you wish for her?

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