Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Katie Schmitz Contributor
As an incoming freshman, I was required to read this year’s Summer Common Reading choice, “Once Upon a River” by Bonnie Jo Campell. It was a horrifying experience.
The book centers on Margo Crane, a teenage girl growing up on a fictitious tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Margo has many hardships in her life, which include but are in no way limited to, sexual abuse, death and abandonment.
Sexual abuse, death and abandonment are three things that tend to make humans show some type of emotional reaction. Margo Crane, however, has about as many emotions as Kristen Stewart has facial expressions. It is unclear throughout the book if this is an intentional characteristic of Margo or if she is simply an underdeveloped character.
When not being indifferent toward the world, Margo spends her time shooting and skinning everything in sight. Because of this I have read about
skinning squirrels and deer about ten too many times. The details of flaying squirrels is not something I wanted to read before coming to a campus that is essentially 95 percent squirrel.
But the book really did give me the desire to immerse myself in the tale, even if it was just to slap Margo in the face every time she made a bad decision. I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with every choice that she made. It was as if she did not have common sense at her disposal. I often found myself wondering, “What was Margo thinking!?” Until finally I realized that Margo isn’t thinking anything. She just does whatever she wants, no matter the consequence. Some people may find this commendable; I find it irritating.
Despite my negative opinion of the story, I still have mixed feelings about it as the choice for Summer Common Reading. I found Bonnie Jo Campbell to be a delightful person. The seminar in which she presented her PowerPoint was hilarious and entertaining. She proved to have a pleasant personality, and her personal stories were very engaging. I’m still not sure as to whether her entertaining presentation outweighed the unpleasant visual of squirrel skins and deer urine.
I was highly anticipating the Q&A portion of the seminar because I was hoping that someone, besides myself, would stand up and ask the author flat out, “What was the point of this book? What were you trying to get across?” That particular question was not asked. The questions asked were much more well-thought-out and intellectually stimulating. Unfortunately for me though, I still walked out of the Q&A wondering why someone would create a character as frustrating as Margo Crane. I, personally, would have rather read a book about Bonnie Jo Campbell navigating the Kalamazoo River herself.