Stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Book Review by Skye Leslie
Softcover: 170 pages
Publisher: Wayne State
University press, April 2009
American Salvage, award winning Bonnie Jo Campbell’s most recent published work is American
realism at its finest. Campbell presents us with fourteen compelling stories and characters set at the edge of the American
landscape. These are not stories for the weak of heart.
Campbell’s voice is convincing throughout the entire collection. Beginning
with The Trespasser, the reader, as the character, can choose to be “frozen
at the threshold” of this stunning book or enter into the visceral world of meth addicts, orange snakes slipping through
shrubbery, bees trapped in the wall of a home about to come apart, and a woman hoping the millennium break down just may,
among other things, shut men up.
Many of the stories are set against the uncompromising backdrop of Michigan winter.
The tales often move from depressing to hilarious to harrowing. They are all, in some sense, primitive, and yet there is an
inner complexity to the main characters as they attempt, so often, to deal with life out of desperation. The word “salvage”
is defined as material or a being saved from destruction, yet it remains discarded or refused. Campbell successfully brings
this duality to bear in each story.
I opened this book one evening on the recommendation of a friend. I could not put
it down until I’d finished the last story. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s use of language in the creation of place and character
had me tasting the gas, feeling the burn, watching, intensely, the girl with the broken leg on the side of the road.
This is not a book for voyeurs who like a sneak peek at life on the precipice.
It is, however, a book for those who wish to step into the heart of characterization, feel Michigan in winter, risk realism
at its best, and ponder the writing for days after the book has been closed.