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HomeNL-2011-08 Book Review

Book Review
by
Paul Woodcock

ONCE UPON A RIVER

by Bonnie Jo Campbell
"The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane’s heart.  She rowed upstream to see wood ducks, canvasbacks and ospreys and to search for tiger salamanders in the ferns.  She drifted downstream to find painted turtles sunning on fallen trees and to count the herons in the heronry beside the Murrayville cemetery.  She tied up her boat and followed shallow feeder streams to collect crayfish, watercress and tiny wild strawberries.  Her feet were toughened against sharp stones and broken glass.  When Margo swam, she swallowed minnows alive and felt the Stark River move inside her.

 
  Bonnie Jo Campbell
"She waded through serpentine tree roots to grab hold of water snakes and let the river clean the wounds from the nonvenomous bites.  She sometimes tricked a snapping turtle into clamping it jaws down hard on a
branch so she could  carry it home to Grandpa Murray.  He boiled the meat to make soup and told the children that eating snapping turtle was like eating dinosaurs.  Margo was the only one the old man would take along when he fished or checked his animal traps because she could sit without speaking for hours in the prow of THE RIVER ROSE, his small teak boat.  Margo learned that when she was tempted to speak or cry out, she should, instead be still and watch and listen.  The old man called her Sprite or River Nymph  Her cousins called her Nympho though not usually within the old man’s hearing.

"Margo, named Margaret Louise, and her cousins knew the muddy water and the brisk current, knew the sand and silt between their toes, scooped it into plastic cottage cheese tubs and sherbet buckets and dribbled it through their fingers to build sagging stalagmites and soggy castles.  They hollowed out riverbanks cut through soil and roots to create collapsing caves and tunnels.  If any kid stood too long in a soft spot and sank above his knees he had just had to holler, and somebody pulled him free.  They spent summers naked or nearly naked, harvesting night crawlers from the mossy wood and frogs eggs from goo in underwater snags.  They built rafts from driftwood and balling twine.  They learned to read upon the surface of water evidence of distress below.  Once when Margo was eight and her favorite cousin, Junior, was nine, they rescued an uncle who’d fallen in drunk..."

These are the first two pages of the novel "Once Upon a River", a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, as it depicts a heroine that loves the river as much as I do.  Margo Crane is a cross of Annie Oakley (I am surprised that this book does not have an endorsement from the NRA) and Huck Finn, and her coming of age novel transports you to rural Michigan and a culture of murder, rape, alcohol and drug abuse.  Her survival skills are truly amazing, and the relationship she makes with the other river rats is enjoyable. It made for a great escape from the urban existence that I live.


the earth is my mother.
the sky is my father
the animals are my brothers
the canoe lets me get closer to them 

- Paul