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American Salvage

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,549 ratings  ·  274 reviews
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, Bonnie Jo Campbell ...more
Paperback, 170 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Wayne State University Press (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Larry Bassett
American Salvage is a book of short stories that should remind you what a good life you have. If it doesn’t, you’ve got problems!
Trisha knew perfectly well Stuart’s wife was a meth addict, not a crack whore – it bothered her that she’d gotten that insult wrong in the heat of the moment.

I bought this book because it was a 2009 National Book Award finalist and is set in my home state of Michigan. Occasionally I like to remember that I spent the first thirty years of my life in southeastern Michi
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. 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 fro
This book should have been depressing. Truly awful things happen to and are done by the characters in these stories. And yet, there is an underlying feeling of hope. That of keeping on, no matter the circumstances. That it may never be perfect but it will be yours.

One of the strongest themes in all of the stories is that of dependence/independence. There is a desire to not be a burden or have someone else having a say in how his or her life is lived. Whatever this life is, these characters want
Welcome to down-and-out small-town America: the dreamers, the unemployed, the hunters, the meth addicts, the damaged, the rape survivors, the prematurely old.

It’s not a pretty picture yet conversely, the prose shines beautifully in these 14 finely-tuned short stories. In a sentence – or a phrase—Bonnie Jo Campbell captures the thought process of a character and brings him or her to life.

Take, for example, Family Reunion, a dark story about an adept girl – a hunter-- who is raped by her drunken
In a lot of ways, Bonnie Jo Campbell reminded me of a Midwestern Flannery O'Connor. Like O'Connor, she carries a strong omniscient voice through most of her stories; she fixates on the working class and rural landscapes; she does not shy away from violence or grit (neither does she romanticize it); and she fuses the strange, the beautiful, the sacred, and the profane in short tales that bear the whiff of myth about them.

But let none of that imply that Campbell is not unique. She is.

I perked up t
I really want to give this collection 4.9 stars. I loved it and thought it really fantastic; almost all of the stories were close to perfect. I just couldn't do 5 because I have a problem with the endings--not what happens in the ending, but the ending line or word. The writing throughout was so beautiful, but ending a story with a flat word (like "she") just bugs me. I want that last word to really mean something. This is a picky thing, I know.

I was really impressed with Campbell and her abilit
Filled w/ the scraps of clunkers, salvage yards dot the landscape and lie dormant on the periphery of a city's landscape. Bonnie Jo Campbell picks through the lives of the poor, the tired, the weak, the abused and the abusers metaphorically to suggest those discarded from mainstream America, those lives that comprise the throw away society, populate more than place; they live in the very soul of Americana.

In "American Salvage" resides a duality of meaning, for a salvage yard is more than a plac
Perspective is speculative are best, ignored at worst and sometimes Authors loose individual characters perspective when writing short stories, as the main characters can blend into one general person, each displaying a different facet of the same personality, and therefore perspective.

Bonnie has achieved a fantastic result with the reader feeling the poor dirty desperation, the hopeless shattering of dreams, realisation and revenge, and plain old love lost. Sometimes the level of unrecognized
Y'know how you don't really believe Denis Johnson's addict characters in Jesus' Son? I don't really believe a lot of Bonnie Jo Campbell's characters. I don't know why. They're three dimensional characters who feel like real people; I think it's the disconnect between the extremely functional, fluid word-to-word writing she does, the way sentences and paragraphs are laid out, and the characters themselves- their desperation. Y'know? I don't know. I wasn't so into this.
Sad tales of meth addicts and Y2K preppers and the people who love them by an amazingly talented writer.

Note to self: Disaster is coming. Must lay in stores of bottled water, toilet paper and everything Campbell has written...
Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion
Add this fine collection of stories to your list of American authors penciling down the contemporary lives that worm beyond the petty dreams and glamor of our haughty metropoles. Bonnie Jo Campbell is down in her native rural Michigan with this endeavor, and her depictions show a consistency of place while exploring a variety of themes. While the stories may strike folk who have known little but privilege in life as depressing, there is a great swelling of humanity shining forth from her charact ...more
It has been a long while since I have read a collection of short stories. The last time might have been during one of the last college courses I took to get my English degree. This collection, though, has made me realize just how amazing short stories can be.

All of the stories presented here form an exceptional final piece. All of the stories are heartbreaking, moving, raw, realistic, depressing, yet, somehow...hopeful.

The stories are all told from Michiganders of varying backgrounds, but all
This is strong stuff. These are stories mostly of working-class people on farms or in small towns in Michigan whose lives are spinning out of control. Many of them are addicted to meth or have some sort of codependency with people addicted to meth. The description of these people's lives is painful, straightforward, unjudgmental, and sometimes ferocious. You feel their pain, and in some cases their dignity and integrity. Indeed the issue of how people succeed or fail to be true to one another is ...more
Morgan Emily
found this in nanu(high school english teacher friends)'s bookshelf one day. layed stomach down on the carpet of her rented out room in morristown, and read the first story. then we went out a' drinking in afore mentioned morristown square section. the entire time i lit my brain up with i dont even remembered what, all i could think about was a semen and blood stained mattress. wondered if my own looked kind of like that?? if that little twelve yr old entered my room, would she understand yet no ...more
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, a ...more
Feb 28, 2015 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of the short story
Recommended to Jeff by: Jane (of Cristian & Jane fame)
This book was nominated for the National Book Award and was given to us by our friend (the publisher) long before that announcement. Still, i kept backshelving it. I'm glad that i finally picked it up, shortly after the bad news (i.e., not The Big Winner).

With only a couple exceptions, i felt satisfied (at least) by every story. Some Goodreaders have written that not only do the stories provide no resolution but they also don't truly begin. I think that's a matter of expectations. If you go to t
Jan 02, 2012 Derek rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ben Findlay, Myke Reiser
Recommended to Derek by: Geeta
Basically the print version of those terrifying meth commercials, Bonnie Jo Campbell's excellent collection of short stories, American Salvage explores the depths of rural Michigan misery in striking fashion. Campbell knows how to do a hell of a lot of things really, really well, and chief among these is using setting to show character, and vice versa. The people who exist in these stories exist not only in their environments, but of them as well--and being conscious of this fact does very littl ...more
Alex V.
Bonnie Jo Campbell is an expert in wounds: how the way we get them is fuzzy and only reveals itself to us over time, in less time than it is revealed to others. How wounds that are not cared for heal wrong. How there is never any money to get wounds looked at anyway, and whose wounds ever heal right? What's right? How they heal anyway and how our every step bears traces of that botched healing, as are the steps of those that did the wounding. How there are little moments of clarity when our woun ...more
Nov 07, 2009 g rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to g by: 2009 National Book Award finalist
Shelves: midwest
Excellent short stories of impoverished down-and-outs in rural Michigan. The stories are slightly less than satisfying because they are so short, but it says something about Campbell's storytelling abilities that each story weaves such a memorable and compelling spell; I'd love novel-length versions or continuations of each. It's gritty and tender, often at the same time, with nuanced characters who are convincing and emotionally complex, often desperately hopeful in spite of bleak surroundings ...more
A 2009 National Book Award finalist, Campbell's short stories are reminiscent of Raymond Carver's in their desolateness.

The linked stories focus on alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and hopelessness. The Michigan setting is likewise desolate: grimy snow, the decaying, no longer functioning salvage yard of the title; dark bars where fights break out; a summer cabin invaded by meth addicts.

The title is perfectly chosen, reflecting on the personal lives of the characters, many o
Eli Hastings
Bonnie Jo Campbell channels a world more than she writes it. Thinking back on this, I have a strong impression of fog, mud and lurking danger--in various forms. This is, maybe, the latest and perhaps also the best in the burgeoning tradition of rural/urban gritty short fiction (think In the Devil's Territory, Knockemstiff, etc.). What she does best is character; some of these stories might best be described as sketches, albeit sketches on a hell of an authentic stage. There are horrifying images ...more
These amazing stories of the working class, struggling with love, drugs and a failing economy in the middle of Michigan, manage to be optimistic and beautiful in the most graceful ways. Campbell creates immediacy and intimacy with just a few choice descriptions of the people and places that inhabit these stories, then she unravels these lives with riveting plot turns. I can't praise these stories enough. And each one ends with an achingly poignant image that makes the reader remember them long a ...more
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell captures the lives of working class/small town people who live in rural Michigan. In many ways, I think of her stories as a masterful combination of Sharon Dilworth and Raymond Carver. Capturing both the violence and poverty of her characters' everyday lives, the author shows how these people live in what most of us would consider bleak and hopeless conditions. Yet, the characters never come across as mere stereotypes -- just painfully real.
Stories about the down and out in Michigan. Nothing pretty here at all. Gritty people with guns, who take meth, who get in arguements and have avoidable accidents. I winced more than once reading this book, and I could not read it into the night. Campbell knows how to hold on like a junkyard dog and find a way to let you smell the smoke in the room, the penetrating cold, the sting of harsh words. I was drawn to it like a moth, alternately repelled by it like a pungent smell.
I thought these were excellent. The collection was rich in detail and captivating. I often had to put a story aside because I needed to catch my breath due to the rawness and suspense. The characters themselves live very differently than myself and make choices I would never consider. Yet, I couldn't help but feel empathy for them.
Casey Hampton
"Bonnie Jo Campbell illustrates the desperation of post-industrial America..." So says the blurb. And this she does, succinctly. Poverty, drug abuse, and the desperate need for human connection, even when dysfunctional, appear thematically central to most of these stories. Campbell excels in the rendering of character, and understanding the value and strength of her setting without allowing it to overshadow the players.

As it is with most short story collections, a few are great, some aren't so
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I had read about half these stories and was driiving somewhere and the characters kept popping up in my head. It was like they weren't done with me, even if I was done reading about them. Campbell's characters are so vivid and her rural, poor, drug-ridden settings are memorable. Do yourself a favor and listen to bluegrass while you read them. I did this by accident and it just made for a great experience. The most memorable story to me is "The Burn."
Brooke Cale
Short Stories can be either rewarding or completely aggravating. In very few circumstances an in-between occurs. This book, recently nominated for a National Book Awards lands on the side of aggravating. There is one very good story ("The Burn") which is rich and vivid, but the rest leave the reader either not interested or mad because the story did not only not resolve, but never got out of the starting block to begin with.
Alyson Hagy
A very strong story collection, equal to the praise it's received. I lived in Michigan for a long stretch. I've seen and met the men and women of Campbell's world. She does them justice -- artistically and morally -- at least in my opinion. And that's saying a lot. No cliches here. No easy answers about love, poverty, loss, or responsibility. Good stuff.
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Books I Want To T...: American Salvage 3 9 Jan 25, 2010 08:31PM  
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Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of the National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Women & Other Animals, and the novels Q Road and Once Upon a River. She is the winner of a Pushcart Prize, the AWP Award for Short Fiction, and Southern Review’s 2008 Eudora Welty Prize for “The Inventor, 1972,” which is included in American Salvage. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Kenyon Review, a ...more
More about Bonnie Jo Campbell...
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“Men didn't understand that you couldn't let yourself be consumed with passion when there were so many people needing your attention, when there was so much work to do. Men didn't understand that there was nothing big enough to exempt you from your obligations, which began as soon as the sun rose over the paper company and ended only after you'd finished the day's chores and fell exhausted into sleep against the background noise of I-94.” 5 likes
“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 just wanted to focus on one big thing, leaving the thousands of smaller messes for the women around them to clean up.” 4 likes
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