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American Salvage

Stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Book Review by Skye Leslie


Softcover: 170 pages

Publisher: Wayne State University press, April 2009

Price: $18.95

ISBN-10: 0814334121

ISBN-13: 978-0814334126



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.

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