American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

I appreciated this book a lot because it talked about the kind of people I grew up with. I didn’t grow up in Michigan but from Campbell’s description of the people, southern Missouri isn’t so different. I grew up with meth addicts, drunks and dead bodies being found in the woods near my home. I really connected with these characters and their way of life. These stories aren’t easy to read and in a way all of them are about people being salvage. The way of life in the rust belt is disappearing because people are moving to the cities to find jobs to be able to support their lifestyle. Gone are the days of surviving off the land or what you make. Life is about advancing up in the corporate ladder and making sure every luxury is paid for.


I grew up with people who were living paycheck to paycheck (my family included) and Campbell’s stories felt very real to me. My two favorite stories was the first story and “Family Reunion”. A girl using her body for meth and another girl shooting her uncle’s penis off did not sound that all out there to me. I rode the bus into town everyday with kids who looked sad and tired. I didn’t know their home lives but I could guess and it wasn’t a pretty picture. I saw a meth addict in the grocery store once and she always stuck with me because of how awful she looked. She had pock marks, scratches all over her arms, and her hair was stringy and gross. She was shaking and I was genuinely scared of her because I didn’t know at the time what was wrong with her. Looking back now I know what was wrong and after seeing pictures of parents overdosing in cars with their child in the backseat my heart breaks for these people. Meth is a serious problem and while popular society glamorizes it with TV shows such as Breaking Bad, it is a real problem and it hurts hundreds of kids every day.

These stories made me laugh, cry and reflect on my life in Southern Missouri. I connected with them on a very real level and I think Campbell captured the essence of what life is like in the Rust Belt and essentially midwest.


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