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American Salvage

Bonnie Jo Campbell

Award Winner

Bestsellers, Fiction, Michigan

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: April 2009
ISBN: 9780814334867
Pages: 192 Size: 5 x 8
Published: March 2009
ISBN: 9780814334911

A story collection of rare impact. . . shaped by stealthy wit, stunning turns of events, and breathtaking insights.

— Booklist

New from award-winning Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage is rich with local color and peopled with rural characters who love and hate extravagantly. They know how to fix cars and washing machines, how to shoot and clean game, and how to cook up methamphetamine, but they have not figured out how to prosper in the twenty-first century. Through the complex inner lives of working-class characters, Campbell illustrates the desperation of post-industrial America, where wildlife, jobs, and whole ways of life go extinct and the people have no choice but to live off what is left behind.

The harsh Michigan winter is the backdrop for many of the tales, which are at turns sad, brutal, and oddly funny. One man prepares for the end of the world-scheduled for midnight December 31, 1999-in a pole barn with chickens and survival manuals. An excruciating burn causes a man to transcend his racist and sexist worldview. Another must decide what to do about his meth-addicted wife, who is shooting up on the other side of the bathroom door. A teenaged sharpshooter must devise a revenge that will make her feel whole again. Though her characters are vulnerable, confused, and sometimes angry, they are also resolute. Campbell follows them as they rebuild their lives, continue to hope and dream, and love in the face of loneliness.

Fellow Michiganders, fans of short fiction, and general readers will enjoy this poignant and affecting collection of tales.

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.

The stories in American Salvage know what it means to occupy landscapes in which humans are outnumbers by animals and in which nature, beautiful and indifferent, rushes in to fill the physical and emotional distances between individuals. Campbell's stories explore what is uniquely human: the grinding exercise of patience, the headlong pursuit of desire. American Salvage captures its subject so convincingly, and from such surprising angles, that even a reader comfortable with the trappings of contemporary rural fiction may feel Campbell's rural ache as if for the first time.

– Fiction Writers Review

American Salvage is not a book for the cowardly. These daring stories, these desperate characters, would just as soon steal your wallet, break your heart or punch you in the gut than openly admit that redemption is possible during these dark times. But it is just this improbable hope that makes her work brilliant. This is Bonnie Jo Campbell at her bravest and best.

– Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly

A strong collection. The pieces are rich in original detail, and highly atmospheric, while maintaining a satisfying sense of familiar territory, local voices."

– Laura Kasischke, author of The Life before Her Eyes and Lilies Without<br />

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a gritty, heart-wrenching collection of short stories that examines an America our leaders don't want us to see. You will want to turn your head as her stories unfold, but you know you will peek." Campbell reminds us that life isn't always pretty for our neighbors, friends, and relatives. These stories will bore deeply into your psyche, but they also speak of redemption and hope for us all.

– Lansing Online News

Beware ye who enter here,' and yet your should and must because the work is so fine and truthful and deeply human. And you will surely know yourself and your world better for having come."

– Small Press Review

While each story stands well alone, as a whole they create an original and irreplaceable portrait of a struggling class of Americans. Her observations are relentlessly honest-no one is spared. But Campbell is a writer who feels deeply for even her most flawed characters, and this is ultimately what makes each of them impossible to forget."

– Third Coast

These fine-tuned stories are shaped by stealthy wit, stunning turns of events, and breath-taking insights. Campbell's busted-broke, damaged, and discarded people are rich in longing, valor, forgiveness and love, and readers themselves will feel salvaged and transformed by the gutsy book's fierce compassion."

– Booklist

At their best these stories reflect what Robert Lowell refers to as 'the grace of accuracy,' which might simply be a way of saying that the voice overall convinces at every turn. By voice I mean personality, and these quirky, surprising, sometimes arcane and visceral and big-hearted stories resonate in ways that keep me nodding. . . . I love the risk of each story and how, in the midst of hilarity, a much more serious concern unfolds so that I'd find myself both laughing out loud and squeezing my heart dry simultaneously."

– Jack Driscoll, author of How Like an Angel

Most authors imitate life, while only a few create life. Bonnie Jo Campbell creates 'em then lets her create-lings live according to their own wills."

– Carolyn Chute, author of The School on Hearts Content Road

I came away from reading American Salvage not only thinking about its literary beauty, but looking at people differently, thinking about their lives, pondering how writing about such damaged, luminous fictional characters can engender, if only momentarily, empathy and compassion, an altered way of seeing. . . . It's a book to take to heart.

– Skip Renker, 360 Main Street, 360 Main Street

Bonnie Jo Campbell's short story collection American Salvage is a beer-soaked, debt-filled, unflinching portrayal of the struggles of blue collar America. . . Her ability to reveal characters' flaws with such ease is a testament not only to her writing, but to her ability to probe well beneath the surface, exploring American troubles-drug addiction, poverty-as if intimately acquainted with them. . . . Campbell's stark, unapologetic glimpses of modest men lost in the modern world offer a heart-wrenching but necessary critique of an often overlooked people.

– Pleiades Press

In American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell picks through the ravages of a small-town America gutted by shifting demographics, new technology, and methamphetamine. Eschewing nostalgia or bitterness, she leads with her curiosity, using canny observation and sensuous prose to coax the reader into dark, strange, primordial territory.

– National Book Award Judges' Citation

One reads feeling as if we, like the characters peopling a post-industrial land, are on the edge-a way of life ended, or begun; the ground quaking beneath our feet."

– Citiation Missing

Campbell's an American voice – two parts healthy fear, one part awe, one part irony, one part realism."

– Los Angeles Times

The effects of American Salvage, with just with into its third printing and has only been out three months, is that Campbell's Michigan lingers and cannot be ignored or forgotten.

– Chicago Literary Scene Examiner

Her writing is raw, precise and unflinching, breaking down our picture of the human condition and throwing it back onto the scattered pile of puzzle pieces that best represent it. . . . As brutal as the details are, Campbell's tales feel like prayers that float upward, those for the poor, the addicted, the lost, and the forgotten. Stunning stuff."


In these stories about cold, lonely, meth-drenched, working-class Michigan life, there's a certain beauty reaching something like the sublimity of a D.H. Lawrence story. Few of the stories have endings that seem resolved. Because of their despairing feel, and their shape and form, they seem quite lifelike."

– Chicago Tribune

Literary Hub's "The Best Short Stories from the Heart of the Country"

in Martin’s book, methamphetamine is an ominous presence in these seemingly innocent lands. American Salvage, a finalist for the National Book Award, opens with "The Trespasser."

A father, mother, and teenage daughter enter their vacation cabin to find a burnt-out stove and destroyed kitchen where three men and a teenage girl have cooked meth. The two girls portrayed in this story have lived wildly different lives—one protected by an intact family, gymnastics trophies, and swim lessons; the other a runaway who trades her body for drugs. Campbell does a masterful job with the ending of the tale, bringing the dangers that sex and the outer world hold into the vulnerable naiveté of a Midwestern family.

– Donna Baer Stein, Literary Hub

  • 2009 National Book Award Finalist - Result: Finalist in the category of fiction
  • 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year - WINNER in the category of fiction-short stories
  • 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year - WINNER in the category of fiction-short stories
  • 2009 National Book Award Finalist - Result: Finalist in the category of fiction
  • 2010 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2010 National Book Critic Circle Book Award - Result: Finalist in the category of Fiction
  • 2010 Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Literature from SVSU - Result: Winner