A long way into the book, an old man named Smoke tells Margo (Margaret Louise Crane) that she has a right to live anyway she pleases. This seems to be a lesson Margo has already taken to heart in this haunting story of an unusual young woman who grows up a river rat in modern day Michigan. River people are a strange group as a whole and even among them, the Murrays, who  run both the local town and the local factory, are unique.

Margo is born to the illegitimate son of the patriarch, and while her father is always on the outs, she’s welcomed into the inner circle, until life starts falling apart. Abandoned by her mother and either blessed or cursed with great physical beauty, Margo has little sense of a woman’s role in relation to men and a large sense of how to survive using the kind of skills that mountain men (or river men) honed. She is both used and abused and uses and abuses in this coming-of-age story that harkens back to the frontier days when people knew how to survive by their wits.

Adding to the mystique, Margo is a crack shot determined to model her life on that of her heroine Annie Oakley. In addition to a sympathetic protagonist and an adventure story writ large, Campbell provides a crash course on nature and some pretty gritty instructions on hunting, trapping and skinning, be it muskrat or deer. Read this book and you’ll learn a lot about living off the grid.

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