Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Once Upon a River (Spoilers)

If I ever wrote a novel, I would probably doom my characters to fall into predictable molds: the female would be a thinly-veiled me (or the me I wish I were) and the leading man would be a country boy with a hint of mischievousness (in other words, a version of my husband). But they would be better than we are and stronger and funnier and have more adventures and be always courageous and daring. And that would pretty much be the death of my novel.

But Margo Crane, the protagonist of Once Upon a River, is probably the most original character I've ever read... she's an enigma. She's smart, but a high school dropout. She's promiscuous and doesn't regret it. She's beautiful but doesn't care. When it comes down to it, Margo loves her dad, her grandpa, the river, her guns, and her heroine, Annie Oakley... and that's about all. She becomes an adult by the end of the book, but thinks and processes life through a childlike lens.

Margo attracts the unwanted attention of men twice her age; one Thanksgiving her uncle rapes her in a shed. At the time, the incident didn't seem to affect her much. She was more concerned that her uncle was caught in the act of molesting her, not the fact that he molested her. She was aware that the incident would create ripples in the family that would be her "fault" by virtue of the fact that she was young and beautiful. It doesn't occur to her to fight back or resist or say no. It is only after mulling over the incident for months, that the word rape came to her mind and she recognized what had happened to her for what it was. Some people may attribute this to PTSD or shock or grief, but this is just an example of how Margo thinks. She processes things slowly, pushing them to the back of her mind to draw conclusions as they come to her, without forcing them. She comes across as almost slow in her thinking, but I think instead that she is just deeply introspective and thoughtful.

Margo's new understanding of the crime that had been done to her resolves her to take her revenge. She hides in a tree by her uncle's farm and waits until he is outside and especially vulnerable... and shoots the offending part of his body with her .22 rifle: a shot not to kill, but to exact retribution and settle the score. An already ugly scene turns even uglier, and Margo takes to the river.

I don't remember ever wanting to jump into the pages of a book just to befriend the main character more... I just wanted to hug her. Margo needs a no-strings-attached-friend and the reader is thrilled by the end of the book to see that she does find friendship and a place for herself. She makes a lot of bad decisions, but in the end, she, like her heroine, Annie Oakley, has become strong, resilient, self-reliant, and a crack shot with a gun.

Grade: 3/5 stars

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