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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Coming in October to Dog Ears Books

Author at home with donkey

Acclaimed fiction writer Bonnie Jo Campbell Campbell will read from her latest collection of short stories, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, at Dog Ears Books on Wednesday, October 14, beginning at noon sharp, and while noon in the middle of the week might seem like a strange time for a reading, if Bonnie could only come at 3 a.m., I’d be here for her. Author of two novels and four previous collections of stories, Campbell has also published stories online and teaches fiction in a low-residency MFA program through Pacific University at Forest Grove, Oregon. She and her husband make their home in rural Kalamazoo County, and I’m happy to say that this will be her third visit to my bookstore in Northport.

Bonnie & Pamela 2012

While Bonnie Jo Campbell’s 2009 collection of stories, American Salvage, was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, and the author has won many literary prizes, it was the character of solitary, 15-year-old Margo Crane, protagonist in the novel Once Upon a River, Campbell’s second novel, who catapulted the writer onto the national scene in a public way. When rifle-toting, deer-skinning Margo Crane set out on a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in search of the mother who had abandoned her, she did not always make the best decisions possible, but she was determined to make her own decisions and to make her own way in the world.

Most of the characters in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (except for those on a circus train in Arizona) also make their homes in rural southern Michigan, and, like Margo Crane, they’ve been through a lot, much of it not pretty. Moreover, whatever the mothers of these characters should have told their daughters, clearly they didn't tell them in time. Campbell says of her fiction that she likes to imagine an interesting character in a difficult situation and then, if she can think the situation through to a solution, “I don’t need to write a story.” What drives her writing is sympathy for characters on the edge, struggling against the odds. She also finds it important to give voices to Americans whose stories are not often heard. 

The title story of the book is a show-stopper, although it begins and builds quietly, proceeding in short sections as the main character -- bedridden, dying of cancer, intubated, and no longer able to speak – wills her daughter to read her mind. More than one story involves rape, as seen from an often confused perspective, as, for example, in "Playhouse," where the central character tries to remember and then to name what happened to her one night at a party where she had too much to drink. 

The lives of these characters do not lend themselves to sentimental and contrived "happy endings," but they have not given up hope. In the book's closing story, "The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree," it seems that Susanna may be finding a better future than she'd anticipated. They don't have it easy, these women, but they aren't looking for pity. Just a few sweet tastes to make the rest worthwhile.

There are some excellent interviews with and features on Bonnie Jo Campbell these days, as the release date for her book draws near. I recommend the Chicago Tribune interview. The article from Kalamazoo’s Encore magazine is good, too, with Campbell talking about writing. You might also catch her on the radio. (This is an old radio interview.) If possible, come to Northport on October 14 and/or catch Bonnie the evening before in Traverse City at the National Writers Series

Meanwhile, David and I will be taking a short break from Northport, starting Sunday. We’ll only be gone a few days. Bruce will be here on Wednesday, and I’ll be back in the shop by next Thursday, back to welcome new books and customers old and new.


Dawn said...

Ahh....I'll be in DC...but with I could be there! Loved her first book, need to read the second someday soon...and now there's a third. I am so behind.

P. J. Grath said...

If I've counted right, this is the seventh book. There are two novels, and this is the fifth book of short stories.