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Balsamroot: A Memoir Paperback – April 15, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of the award-winning memoir All but the Waltz here returns to familiar territory to examine the lives of her first-generation Montana-born ancestors. Her parents, born in the early 1900s, remained on their Montana ranch, proudly confronting adversity and drought, raising spirited horses as well as children. But the center of this memoir is the one who got away, Blew's favorite aunt Imogene, who became a schoolteacher, living alone for 40 years in a remote, scenic part of Washington State. Now nearly senile, Imogene, once the author's model of feminine independence, evokes puzzling questions and blurry images for the niece on a parallel life journey that includes divorce and single parenthood. Blew mines the repository of her aunt's memoirs and diaries, uncovering near-revelations that suggest Imogene's life was far from what it appeared to be. The memoir is energized by the search and by the author's connectedness to a Montana heritage.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
As Blew (All But the Waltz, 1991) watches her long-idolized aunt Imogene slide into dementia, she wisely analyzes past and present to create a stronger self and a more honest future. Imogene was born of the stark and dusty Montana plains at a time when women were expected to marry and raise children. Instead, she became a schoolteacher and moved away from her family, as far west as possible, to the end of Washington's Olympic peninsula, to live an independent and solitary life. Things change when Imogene, age 79, wakes up one morning and doesn't remember how to make oatmeal; subsequently she sells her house and moves to Lewiston, Idaho, to be near her niece. At the same time, Blew's daughter from her first marriage, whom she hasn't seen in several years, comes for a visit and announces that she's divorcing her husband and moving to Lewiston to attend veterinary school. If Blew had trouble juggling her seven-year-old daughter Rachel from her second (failed) marriage and teaching grad school and writing, what a shock to find that her aunt, who's always provided a haven in times of distress, now needs care, and her older daughter, who feels so foreign to her (``Depression after my divorce erased my young womanhood...until I feel almost certain that Rachel is the only child I ever had''), might become a friend. While Blew struggles with practical choices, like residential care, she also struggles with spiritual ones, recognizing that she knows nothing of the real Imogene except what she'd needed to see and so has no idea where her aunt goes when she falls ``through the hole in her mind.'' Blew turns to Imogene's journals for clues to break down her family's unstated code--``never speak aloud of what you feel deeply''--and is surprised to find her own voice. Sagebrush and sage. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Quickly we realize that that Aunt Imogene is suffering from mental lapses that rapidly progress to "dementia" where she flickers arbitrarily between reality and her own world. Dealing with an independent aunt who is struggling to control her life is compounded by Blew's estranged daughter divorcing her husband and moving near her mother. As Blew works to rebuild a relationship with the daughter who she had treated with great reserve, she is forced to revisit her divorces, her treatment of her daughter, and her expectations for life. Then Mary Blew finds and reads her aunt's diaries. Aunt Imogene has never married, and Mary searches the diaries to discover why. Carefully reading between the lines, she finds surprising revelations not only about her aunt but also about her parents and grandparents, thereby overlaying and entwining the lives of four generations. This gives the memoir a fragmented narrative associatively entwining the life of the narrator, her daughter, her aunt, and their ancestors.
Refusing to keep her family's code of silence about important things, Blew shares her findings with her daughter. What she finds are dysfunctional marriages that compel females in her family to strive for personal freedom, females who are unwilling to speak about what really matters, and women with an ability to suppress large parts of their lives. Aunt Imogene has paid dearly for her freedom in Port Angles; however, as she loses her grasp with the world, Mary Blew slowly receives a firmer grasp on her own world. Recognizing destructive familial patterns in herself, Blew intimates that her journey of self-discovery was successful as she takes small steps to spring loose "unacceptable" ideas that she has suppressed.