On the shelf: ‘American Salvage’ by Bonnie Jo Campbell

By Tim Gleisner, GRPL Main

Imagine a world of broken down cars, underemployed people, dreams deferred, and you will get an idea of the National Book Award finalist American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell — a collection of short stories of various characters and settings strewn across Southwestern Michigan. Within these stories and characters are the forgotten people, the people consumed with just getting by, with finding enough work to put food on the table, finding enough love to get through another day.

American Salvage shares its title with one of these stories. Within this story one is taken to a junkyard on the outskirts of Kalamazoo. Here the reader is introduced to the Junkman King and his nephew Johnny. They take in only American cars to be scrapped and sell the pieces off for a profit.

Each car is broken down. Little love or attention has been given to these machines in a long time. Yet, within each vehicle are parts that are still like new, that still have value in the eyes of the Junkman and his nephew. Much like the cars, the people throughout this book are flawed, beaten down, and beat up by the many valleys of life. And, much like the vehicles they strip each person still has a redeeming part of them that is virtually left untouched by the struggles of life. It is these parts that the author, Bonnie Jo Campbell, skillfully unveils and reveals to the attentive reader.