I did not know what it really meant when people said they were charmed by a book or movie. It always seemed kind of superficial to me and may be a sign that the book/film lacks depth and meaning. I don’t mind plot twists and odd character turns, I am more concerned with aspects of a story that try to be aggressively unique, and end up being overly cute and annoyingly quirky, like a Juno or anything Michael Cera has been in. I have no interest in those, and feel their only purpose is to validate certain arrogant hipsters and their behavior. So when I got to the end of Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell, I was surprised how what I liked most about it was its charm. It works in the way The Story of Edgar Sawtelle did; in that it gives the rural America of the 20th century a sense of mystery and that there are still things to discover. The story centers on Margo Crane, a young woman on the verge of adulthood, who is obsessed with hunting and modeling her life after Annie Oakley. I was skeptical of her at first and thought she was going to be portrayed as a romanticized feminist character, but that is not the case as we get to know her. She lives on the banks of the Stark River, which is near the Kalamazoo River, with her hard-edged, yet protective and competent father, Bernard Crane. Her mother has left the family, probably due to Crane’s impotent attitude toward her. Across the river, lies the household of the Murray’s, the namesake family of the town of Murrayville and in some way related to the Cranes. They own the metal fabricating plant that Crane used to work at, but after he catches the patriarch of the family raping Margo, he is fired, and now there is a great conflict between him and the rest of the Murray clan. The book immediately puts us in a place where the potential of violence seems to be nonexistent, but is really about to break through and is only held back by the two parties decency. But that decency is destroyed one day, when Margo’s father is killed, and Margo decides to go up the Stark River in order to find her mother. This is where most of the action takes place, and where the story really becomes fun, and, begrudgingly, charming. Margo meets with many different people, mostly men, who try to comfort her through sex and companionship, but whenever her autonomy is threatened, she escapes, and happens upon someone else who offers the same thing in a different kind of way. She meets Brian, who seems to care, but hides a violent side, she then meets Michael, who is the exact opposite of Brian. He is almost too kind and nice to be a part of Margo’s life. While these characters can seem very one-dimensional, as if they are written by a Diablo Cody, they all, in how the try to comfort the lonely Margo, say something about the attitude she has toward life, and even her obsessive and creepy need to hunt and kill wild animals. Now Margo herself, as I said before, is not simply a feminist to be admired. Yes, she is a strong female who commands respect, but her flaws shine through, one of which is her hardness. She kills animals without any intention of cooking them, and even cruelly skins an animal alive at one point. She has things to work on, which makes her interactions with these men somewhat more rewarding then her forced exile. By the end, while this book has some real dark places, it is ultimately hopeful in how a naïve yet strong-willed person can persevere. In short, I thought this book was magnificent and wonderful in how it showed it’s main character transverse outside of her small world and into undiscovered America, at least to her. Anyone interested in how magic and discovery can still be found in the world around them, will love this book as much as I did.