Once Upon a River

American Salvage

Q Road

Women & Other Animals

Love Letters to Sons of Bitches

Our Working Lives

Stories online

Once Upon a River

From the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist-an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity.

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, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

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Read reviews (pdf) of Once Upon A River.

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American Salvage

From award-winning Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage is rich with local color and peopled with rural characters who love and hate extravagantly. They know how to fix cars and washing machines, how to shoot and clean game, and how to cook up methamphetamine, but they have not figured out how to prosper in the twenty-first century. Through the complex inner lives of working-class characters, Campbell illustrates the desperation of post-industrial America, where wildlife, jobs, and whole ways of life go extinct and the people have no choice but to live off what is left behind.

The harsh Michigan winter is the backdrop for many of the tales, which are at turns sad, brutal, and oddly funny. One man prepares for the end of the world--scheduled for midnight December 31, 1999--in a pole barn with chickens and survival manuals. An excruciating burn causes a man to transcend his racist and sexist worldview. Another must decide what to do about his meth-addicted wife, who is shooting up on the other side of the bathroom door. A teenaged sharpshooter must devise a revenge that will make her feel whole again. Though her characters are vulnerable, confused, and sometimes angry, they are also resolute. Campbell follows them as they rebuild their lives, continue to hope and dream, and love in the face of loneliness.

Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes, says: "A strong collection. The pieces are rich in original detail, and highly atmospheric, while maintaining a sense of familiar territory, local voices."

Go to the American Salvage page.

For a full schedule of readings and workshops, visit http://americansalvagestories.blogspot.com/

Read a Booklist starred review (pdf).

Q Road

Welcome to Q Road, in Greenland Township, where the old way of life is colliding with the new. On the same acres where farmers once displaced Potawatomi Indians, suburban developers now supplant farmers and Q Road (or "Queer Road," as the locals call it) has become home to an unlikely mix of people. The neighbors include a sixth-generation farmer and his rifle-toting child bride, an evangelical bartender, a tabloid-reading agoraphobe, a philandering window salesman, and an asthmatic boy who longs for the love of a good father. These folks all smell the pig manure from the Whitby farm and share the same grand views of the Kalamazoo River and the oldest barn in the township--until one disastrous October afternoon.

Bonnie Jo Campbell's first novel combines offbeat humor, eccentric characters, and unique insights into modern rural America, where family traditions have flown the coop and only the cycle of the seasons remains. At the heart of this tale are three characters so integrally connected and devoted to the Harland farm that they might not survive anywhere else; their lives, their livelihoods, and their sometimes violent love for one another are all rooted in the soil of this square mile.

As The Village Voice said of Campbell's story collection, she "crystallizes those moments when benumbed everyday routine is briefly jolted by dizzy instants of brutal lucidity." It may take a spring tornado or a lightning bolt in the garden to get the folks of Q Road to pause in their work, but when they lift their gaze collectively, it can be life-altering. Brilliant autumn foliage creates the backdrop for the rich and ragged human landscape of rural southwestern Michigan, a place Campbell has explored in her award-winning short stories. In this passionate and funny novel she digs even deeper, to reveal the beauty and strangeness of her ferocious women, confused men, and hungry children.

The nice things that people say (under no threat whatsoever)...
Read reviews (pdf) of Q Road.

Read Chapter 1 (pdf) from Q Road.

Read an interview (pdf) with Bonnie about Q Road.

Buy a copy of Q Road.

Women and Other Animals

These richly imaginative stories encompass train wrecks, circus acts, river journeys, transspecies transmogrification, and growing up and growing old around the small towns of Michigan. Here both nature and man can threaten a woman, but neither does more damage than her own choices. Bonnie Jo Campbell's hard-working, sometimes hard-drinking protagonists live precisely the lives they make for themselves, and it is not surprising that children look beyond human role models to dogs, milk cows, even gorillas. Though Campbell never glamorizes poverty, she details a vision in which shabbiness, beauty, brutality, and wisdom all coexist, and the stories can be surprisingly optimistic, often funny.

These women of Michigan's lower peninsula may live without automotive safety belts or televisions or the right kind of love, but they are able to trust their instincts and are ultimately drawn to whatever can save them. In "Sleeping Sickness" a twelve-year-old girl copes with the sexually charged atmosphere created by her mother's new boyfriend. In "Bringing Home the Bones" a woman must lose her leg before she can come to terms with her estranged daughters. In "Running" the narrator obsesses about the mating habits of birds and the promiscuity of her neighbor's daughter while her own fertility trickles away. In "Eating Aunt Victoria" a young woman finally looks into the face of her dead mother's lesbian lover. In "Shifting Gears" a man buys a new truck in order to get over his wife's leaving but can't stop thinking about the pregnant woman next door.

The nice things that people say (under no threat whatsoever)...
Read reviews (pdf) of Women and Other Animals.

Read excerpts (pdf) from three stories in Woman and Other Animals.

Buy a copy of Women and Other Animals.

Buy a copy of the German translation, Gorilla Girls.

Love Letters to Sons of Bitches

The manuscript for this book won the 2009 Poetry Chapbook Competition at The Center for Book Arts. Set in French Round Face with titling in Flash by Ed Rayher at Swamp Press. Designed and printed on a Vandercook Proof Press by Barbara Henry. The edition is 100 signed and numbered copies.

Read an excerpt (pdf) from Love Letters to Sons of Bitches.

Buy a copy of Love Letters to Sons of Bitches.

Our Working Lives
Edited by Bonnie Jo Campbell and Larry Smith

In this new collection about contemporary people facing the post-industrial age and the work of their lives we have stories about carpenters, painters, waitresses, nurses, teachers, plumbers, social workers, ushers, factory and cannery workers, car salesmen, hardware sellers, chicken butchers, junk dealers, miners, lifeguards, out-of-workers. It makes us realize how some truths must be spoken as stories. A strong collection appropriate for a general audience and for college readers.

Read an excerpt (pdf) from the introduction to Our Working Lives.

Buy a copy of Our Working Lives.

More information on Bottom Dog Press.

Sniff out some of Campbell's stories online:

"Boar Taint"
- published in the Kenyon Review

"The Solutions to Ben's Problem"
- published at Diagram magazine

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