American Salvage

American Salvage

by Bonnie Jo Campbell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393339192
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 12/14/2009
Pages: 170
Sales rank: 669,937
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of the novel Once Upon a River (July 2011, W.W. Norton). She was a 2009 National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for her collection of stories American Salvage, which won the Foreword Book of the Year award for short fiction. Campbell is also author of the novel Q Road and the story collection Women & Other Animals. She's received the AWP Award for Short Fiction, a Pushcart Prize, and the Eudora Welty Prize, and she has been awarded a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

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American Salvage 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This was narrated by Recorded Books ¿in house troupe¿ and I don¿t know if that is good or bad. Does this troupe perform all of Recorded Books books now? Or maybe this was just a way not pay all the narrators? I¿m not sure but it just seemed shady, but before every story the particular reader is named so that is good.Sorry I¿m addicted to audiobooks and I¿m now obsessed with giving kudos to the readers.As to the stories themselves, they are some fine working class ¿realist¿ fiction with a feminist bent. What¿s not to like? So they are up my alley, but I require a little more from the language. Anything that can be so neatly pigeon is a little too easy for me, which is funny because I¿m pretty most sure people thought these stories were hardcore-Dorothy-Alison-of-the-North-type sh*t. I guess I¿m desensitized.Still, the line ¿I¿ve been burned! Badly burned!¿ has been stuck in my head for weeks. I can¿t wait to read Once Upon a River.
richardderus on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Solid craftsmanship, a fearless imagination, and a complete lack of corrosive, cynical piety and pity make this collection of short stories exceptionally enjoyable.I share nothing with these characters except the right to trial by jury, and yet I was enrapt by them. I loved "The Solutions to Brian's Problem" the best, since I never expect to see a male PoV on abuse by women. This book is seething with the rage of characters whose lives turned out bad, as in the TV series "Breaking Bad," and are flat-out irredeemably broken. This same territory was trodden by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed from the factual PoV...it was revolting to read that book, it hurt me in ways I can't recover from, but Bonnie Jo Campbell has brought home to me the true emotional cost of indifference.I don't thank her for that.But I do recommend the book highly.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A good collection of short stories. Their central theme seemed to be that life is tough, but if we would just take the time we would find poignancy and meaning where we do not see it at first.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The writing here is first class. Campbell is probably one of the few writers today who can portray so accurately the lives of the unemployed, the disheartened and broken-hearted, the redneck and uneducated - in short people who are down on their luck or who've never had a chance for a decent life. There are drug addicts and drunks here, child molesters and rape victims, junk dealers and dirt farmers, and they are all so real you'd swear you might have met them somewhere. Perhaps the most recurrent theme in this slim volume of stories is one of near hopelessness. I guess if I'm gonna be honest here, the only real reason I didn't give this book five stars is because the stories are just too damn depressing. But they say you should write about what you know, and Campbell obviously knows her subjects, these awful characters who live along the margins of our society, in this case in southwest Michigan, where most of the blue collar factory jobs have long gone south. Home cooked meth is the drug of choice here and things in general seem pretty bleak. One wonders what Bonnie Jo Campbell sees in these people or why she chooses to write about them. There are clues to this scattered here and there, however, as in the title story's last line. A junk yard employee who was nearly an accessory to murder is stripping catalytic converters off old cars and throwing them on a pile - "mostly they were dirty and rusted from the slush and the mud and road salt, but each of their bodies contained a core of platinum."Campbell has lived among these people. Hell, probably many of them are friends of hers. And she sees value in these beaten down people consigned to the junkyards of American society. She knows God doesn't make junk. She looks for the core, for the valuable, for the soul. She looks for the salvageable. This will be a hard sell to recommend. The subject is just too blatantly bleak. But this woman can write!
TexasBookLover on LibraryThing 8 months ago
American Salvage, a product of the Made in Michigan Writers Series at Wayne State University Press Detroit, is a collection of fourteen short stories written by Bonnie Jo Campbell. Each of these stories is set in down-and-out rural Michigan. Most of the characters are damaged by poverty. Some of these families are laboring under poverty so exhaustive that it seemingly offers no hope for a better life. Simple things can be a crisis for these families: the gas bill, dinner, school shoes for a child. These things rise to the level of crisis because the characters cannot conceive of the long term because the short term necessarily commands all of their effort and attention. For the most part this is all they have ever known. They believe that they are doing all they can but not gaining any ground. Consequently, they fall into a belief that they are at the mercy of "others," whether it be the family, the boss or the government (Y2K!) They feel powerless against these forces. This is best illustrated by a young girl from The Inventor. "She has long imagined her future spreading out before her, gloriously full of love and discovery; she has been waiting for the future to arrive like a plate full of fancy appetizers in a restaurant, like a lush bunch of roses placed in her arms, like the biggest birthday cake with the brightest candles, baked and lit by people who love her." This is a response and an accommodation of poverty; not imagining she could go out and create a future for herself, difficult as it would surely be. My two favorite things: This is my favorite quote from the collection: "It landed with a resounding clang on the pile of catalytic converters- mostly they were dirty and rusted from the slush and mud and road salt, but each of their bodies contained a core of platinum." This is from King Cole's American Salvage. The character in this scene performs back-breaking labor outside in all types of weather, for little money, in an auto salvage yard, but he has plans and determination and resolve to make a better life for himself. This may sound odd to compare human potential to a catalytic converter but I take the quote as a metaphor. Some of us don't look like much on the outside but there's a valuable core of promise.My favorite character is Jill from Boar Taint. She has discovered a way of coping with her economic circumstances. She indulges herself by buying gourmet chocolate bars one at a time. She keeps them in her underwear drawer and breaks off one square each night until the bar is gone. Then she goes out and buys another. This small act says that Jill still believes she is valuable; that she does indeed have a core of platinum.American Salvage has won an impressive number of awards: 2010 Michigan Notable Awards, 2010 National Book Critic Circle Book Award, Stuart and Venice Gross Award for Excellence in Literature from SVSU, 2009 National Book Award Finalist, and the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award. If you are a fan of realist American regionalism (as I am) and a fan of short stories (ditto) then you may find many things to like in this collection. However, if you are not a fan of these genres then you should probably pass by American Salvage. It is not for the faint of heart.And remember that love does not conquer meth!!
thronm on LibraryThing 8 months ago
There is something wrong with this set of stories and it's not the setting, the intention to sorrid detail or the characters themselves. The attempts at "hope" or "honor"--even respect--are bits and pieces that are overwhelmed by the bathos and lost characters. In the title story, the catylitic converter ripped from the Olds is tossed on a heap with others, each with a touch of platinum in it--its touch of value. That's a symbolic trick that is not a way to redeam these characters, this town, these stories. Yet, we don't leave these characters or settings after we close the book--they linger in the mind and heart, ignoble as they are. Skip the clever short story tricks and look at the dirt and pain. Flannery O'Connor of Michigan it is not.
snash on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This collection of short stories portrays the lives of the poor, struggling underbelly of American life with compassion but honestly. Some stories, particularly "The Yard Man" stick with me.
msf59 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
While reading this remarkable collection of stories, I thought of shopping for fresh fruit. How, when making your selection, you choose the healthiest, most robust piece, overlooking the mottled, unhealthy ones. The discards. This describes the people in these tales, with their bruised and damaged lives, living on the fringes, in this case rural or small town Michigan. Ex-cons, drug-dealers, struggling families and survivalists, to name a few. Campbell is an exceptional writer, with a fine ear for the rhythms of everyday life. She does not condemn or judge these characters, but gives them an honest, unflinching, sometimes heart-rending examination. Highly recommended!
Stbalbach on LibraryThing 8 months ago
American Salvage is "Northern Gothic", Flannery O'Connor transported to rural MI with Finns and Germans and snow and mud (and no religion). Although only 166 pages, the stories are dense with atmosphere and character, and like the best fiction, it leaves a deep impression of a place and people. Most of the characters are on the surface grotesque, discarded bodies in a salvage yard, but underneath there is a "core of platinum" ("King Cole's American Salvage") - survivors in the rough that continue living despite disabilities. Physically injured men, addiction, sexual abuse and emotionally scarred women figure prominent in these stories - it's unpleasant to look; but Campbell usually leaves a bit of light at the end, something to keep us going, too. I look forward to reading more by this wonderful author.
jasonpettus on LibraryThing 8 months ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)I recently found myself with the opportunity to interview revered author Bonnie Jo Campbell for the CCLaP Podcast; and so before doing so, I thought it would be beneficial to read her two most popular books besides the one I've already read (2011's Once Upon a River, that is, considered by many to be a frontrunner for this year's Pulitzer). And indeed, it turned out to be quite important that I read her 1999 breakout novel Q Road before talking with her, because it turns out to be a clever sort of prequel/sequel to the Once Upon a River title we'll mainly be discussing; set on the cusp of the new millennium, it tells the story of the "last hurrah" of sorts for a rural farmland area just outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan before finally succumbing to the capitalist steamroller of exurban subdivisions, chain restaurants and pristine golf courses, an Altmanesque interrelated ensemble character piece in which one of the characters (teenage tomboy and child bride Rachel Crane) just happens to be the daughter of the main character of Once Upon a River (the even more hardcore tomboy Margo Crane), only with the newer novel set in the older 1970s and examining Margo's own teenage years as a tight-lipped, sharpshooting pregnant runaway.And in fact you can look at all three of these books in much the same light (including the slim 2009 story collection American Salvage, the third title in this list); they are all episodic in nature, take a sympathetic and nonjudgemental look at the kinds of characters we would traditionally call dumb white trash, yet can frequently reach a level of poetic harshness and violence akin to a Sam Shepard play, stories that don't excuse the behavior of the meth addicts, racists and uneducated hillbillies that populate her universe but that don't dismiss such characters either, an attitude that I'm sure at least partly stems from Campbell's own background as a willful tomboy in this exact kind of rural Michigan environment (but more on that in the finished podcast episode, coming next week). Powerful and unflinching, yet beautiful and easily readable, it's no surprise after reading these three books that Campbell would have the kind of intensely passionate fanbase that she does, as well as racking up such academic tentpoles as a Pushcart Prize, Eudora Welty Prize, National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination; and I wholeheartedly recommend them all to a general audience.Out of 10: Q Road: 9.4American Salvage: 9.0
nancyewhite on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Absolutely amazing. These stories of folks living on the lower rungs of the ladder in rural Michigan are full of emotional and literary knock-out punches. Although many of the people populating these stories are physically and emotionally scarred, they all feel genuinely real and knowable. Depicting the dark clouds of poverty, pain, abuse and addiction most of the stories also have a glimmer of a silver lining - hope, love, comfort, connection. Campbell is particularly adept at describing the dark places that love can take us. Unbelievable. I hope that being a National Book Award finalist gets Bonnie Jo Campbell out of obscurity and into the literary limelight she deserves. I could hug the person who brought this book to my attention.
brenzi on LibraryThing 8 months ago
In American Salvage, National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell sought to portray the lives of America¿s working poor in her native Michigan and the timeliness of this story collection is striking. With unemployment still hovering at around 10%, and with Michigan unemployment near 15%, Campbell highlights the unemployed and the underemployed, the down and out, and the practically there, but in doing so she portrays working class characters that don¿t give up even with the odds stacked against them and, in the end, she allows them to let hope emerge. Things may seem hopeless here, but these characters prove that just the opposite is true.Each story shows, through its quirky characters and desperate circumstances, the strong character traits needed to survive in the yawning depths of economic disaster. Impossible to put down, each story had me laughing until the circumstances changed on a dime and I was near tears. The settings of each story are littered with rusted cars, camouflage clothes, missing teeth, lack of insurance, methamphetamine, whiskey bottles, busted-up marriages and, just for good measure, the author throws in a large dose of plain old bad luck. In ¿The Burn¿ down and out character Jim Lobretto is having what can only be described as a Murphy¿s Law kind of day. He picks up a girl at the bowling alley and offers to drive her home only to learn as they pull out of the parking lot that she still lives with her parents twenty miles out of town. On his way back, he stops for gas but only has $3 for gas, $3 for cigarettes and $1 for coffee. In getting the coffee, he drops the cup and splatters coffee all over himself and the woman ahead of him in line. Out at the gas pump, he overfills his tank and gas runs down his right thigh and knee. Back on the road again, he gets pulled over for going through a stop light. As he¿s waiting for the policeman, he tries to light a cigarette but the match ignites his pants where the gas spilled. The dialogue up to this point is hysterical but the foreboding language leads you to know something bad is coming down the pike, and the comedy of errors is going to end pretty badly. Campbell skillfully transitions to the painful ending to the story.Along the way, Campbell throws out more than a few gems:¿It occurred to Susan that men were always waiting for something cataclysmic¿love or war or a giant asteroid. Every man wanted to be a hot-headed Bruce Willis character, fighting against the evil foreign enemy while despising the domestic bureaucracy. Men wanted to focus on just one big thing, leaving the thousands of smaller messes for the women around them to clean up.¿ (Page 34, ¿World of Gas¿)And from ¿King Cole¿s American Salvage,¿ Page 129:¿Johnny went back to work and started scrapping out a Lincoln Town Car. King was watching him, and it made Johnny conscious of his own breath forming a cloud that hung around him, a cloud that kept him down here on the oily, hard-packed dirt of the salvage yard, down here wearing his greasy clothes, picking through the piles of engines and axles with his filthy hands, down in this neighborhood of ramshackle houses with dogs barking in the torn up yards.¿You know you¿re in the hands of a master here and she delivers. Highly recommended.
Illiniguy71 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A book of excellent short stories, subtile yet hard-hitting. These stories concern poor whites in the small-town and rural Midwest. We have tens of millions of these people in America, but their existence is hardly even acknowledged in our time. The stories reveal what difficult lives they often lead, but our country tries to pretend they do not exist or that they themselves should be blamed for their disagreeable, often desperate, circumstances. As we grow ever-more oriented to the wants, desires and ideology of the rich, these peoples' lives become ever worse. Kudus to Bonnie Jo Campbell for giving us such a readable and sympathetic description of them.
ben_h on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage contains experiments with form, such as "The Solutions to Brian's Problem", but it's the setting that ties all these stories together: the vast stretches of rural America--small one-industry towns, blighted landscapes, poor and desperate people. Campbell skillfully ratchets up the emotional intensity: the intense pain of a serious burn slides into the ecstasy of sex which climbs into Catholic passion; blood features prominently throughout, as does asphalt, and alcohol. Few of these stories have resolution; most often, something is immanent--either action or reaction remains to be resolved just beyond the margins of the text. When there is resolution, it is tentative and provisional. A crack is patched, an excuse found, a life or relationship will hold together for a while longer, perhaps. Most of Campbell's characters have their private sorrows, which define them more clearly than their circumscribed social lives. It's gripping reading, but there's something suspect in the ease with which the reader is drawn into Campbell's world. Race is rarely mentioned, but these stories seem to be about white people's lives; a strange choice when race is so large an issue in rural America. And the characters, no matter how distasteful or unlikeable on the surface, are revealed to be complex and fascinating people. Campbell has taken the much-maligned rural American (the farmer, the factory worker) and rehabilitated--or perhaps redeemed--him. In these stories, he suffers, he yearns, he holds out work-scarred hands, gazes out of wise eyes, and invites the reader to share his sorrow and pain. Campbell has given this cast of characters, so often denigrated or overlooked in the story of America, a voice--but would their real-world counterparts recognize it? In any case, readers who hear that voice will likely find it both moving and memorable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eyes-and-Ears More than 1 year ago
These are stories about the down and out and those looking for a way out. Just gripping storytelling that stops, surprises you, and urges you to read the next story. With clean, (deceptively) simple writing, she quickly delineates her characters and life situations. You think you might know someone like that, or someone who is feeling like that, or you remember feeling like that. There is an intelligence and resignation about human nature in her characters, but they also have a strong will to see things through. This writer has quite a mind. I now am reading Bonnie Jo Campbell's other works and hope I find a novel among her short stories.
CMJones62 More than 1 year ago
A collection of short stories that end abruptly, leaving you wanting more, while at the same time sparking your imagination as to what happens next. Excellent character development and scene descriptive text. Especially if you live in the Midwest, it's easy to visualize the stories as you read them, easy to picture your own family, friends and acquaintances in these same situations.