By Cheryl Olsen
If you’re here for a review, keep moving. I haven’t read Once Upon a River. Yet. But I will, after the author’s reading at Book Passage in Corte Madera last night. Bonnie Jo Campbell is just so darn unguarded and appealing, it’s impossible not to want to spend more time under her spell.
She had me at the exposed forearms, before she opened the book to read. In town straight from slingin’ hay, she showed us the nicks and scratches that go with farm life. Not long after that she divulged the funk she was in after being dumped by her agent—and the sulking, gardening, and dog acquisition required to get her out of it. Then there was the circuitous route that has taken her from selling snow cones for Barnum and Bailey Circus, to a PhD program in mathematics (her next novel “will have a lot of math in it”), to a Guggenheim Fellowship, to teaching at the Pacific University MFA program and being a National Book Award finalist.
Candor is a huge part of the woman’s lure. Which probably explains the preponderance of writers in the audience (she asked for a show of hands)—we all want some of her magic dust to sprinkle down on us, straw and all. Eric and I agreed this was one of the funnest readings we’ve been to; and it got even better. During the signing afterward, I reminded BJC of her “sex poem” to which she’d alluded in her opening remarks. She asked me to read it aloud to the assembled autograph seekers while she continued to sign their books.
The poem was gritty, direct, simultaneously poignant and humorous, and totally cool. Just like the poet. There was a cat sitting on a bed, a shirt “you didn’t unbutton” before taking it off, seven—oh my!—big Os, and the morning-after-shirt-owner in the kitchen whisking up “something I won’t be able to resist.”
Just like the rest of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s word slinging.
What makes an author event great for you? Ever been completely surprised by the face-to-face with the creator of books you love?