2009 National Book Award Finalist,

Bonnie Jo Campbell

American Salvage

Wayne State University Press

Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

Photo credit: John Campbell


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. These short stories approach their subjects from an array of perspectives, but what they share is freshness, surprise, and a compulsion to plumb some absolute extremes of American existence.


Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell’s 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.


Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of a collection of stories, Women & Other Animals, and a novel, Q Road. She is the winner of a Pushcart Prize, the AWP Award for Short Fiction, and the Southern Review’s 2008 Eudora Welty Prize for “The Inventor, 1972,” which is included in this collection. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and Ontario Review.

She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she studies and teaches kobudo, the art of Okinawan weapons, and hangs out with her two donkeys, Jack and Don Quixote.


Bonnie Jo Campbell's Official Website

The Bone-eye: A Writer's Adventures
Bonnie Jo Campbell's blog

Bonnie Jo Campbell's Wikipedia Entry


Excerpt from “The Inventor, 1972”, American Salvage. All rights reserved.

The girl’s freckles seem like holes through which her life might pour out--she may already be dissolving. Each of the three dead rabbits in the back of his El Camino, each flea-ridden pelt, contains about a pound of meat. After seeing the girl’s wounds, he will not be able to skin the rabbits, knows, too, that they are not enough to bring his old man, who thinks his son should have more to show for his life. The siren grows louder, and the girl is still alive. He is alive with her. Tears are falling out the sides of the girl’s eyes, and he feels grateful; his own tear ducts have been damaged by his not wearing goggles at the foundry.

His eyes remain locked with hers until the technicians (Modern uniformed miracles, they have arrived!) push him aside. “I didn’t see her,” he says in his nonsense syllables. He wonders if they sense his hunger for venison, if his hunger shows on his face. The girl sees it; he feels her watching him until they place her in the ambulance, until he hears the swoosh-swoosh-click of doors closing and latching, as securely as those on a space ship. The police ask him to get into the back of the cruiser.

He will never tell them or anyone about the outline of the girl stepping from the fog with such animal grace, her head tipped back to reveal her throat. In the next hour they will ask him repeatedly if he drove over the white line--he could have when he was looking at the Hendrickson house, although he honestly doesn’t think he did. He will not tell them how the girl’s face looks like Ricky’s face. They will ask him if he has been drinking, and they will not believe him when he says no. The county sheriff’s department has recently purchased their first Breathalyzer machine, and a second police cruiser will arrive with the machine in the trunk, and they will test him and fiddle with the adjustments and retest him repeatedly, and repeatedly he will pass. Inside his own body, however, he feels the residue of what he has drunk over the years, feels the residue of all those Friday night binges acutely, as exhaustion in his joints, in the shaking of his burned hand, in his infected jaw.

From “The Inventor, 1972”, American Salvage