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Breaking Clean Paperback – January 7, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Poet and essayist Blunt grew up on a Montana cattle ranch in the 1950s and 60s, where "indoor plumbing" meant a door on the privy and "running water" was a fast ranch wife with two buckets. A natural tomboy, happiest around animals, Blunt dreaded leaving childhood. The gender rules of ranch life were unyielding: women married and kept to their kitchens, and they didn't own property or make decisions about the ranch. When puberty came, she did her best to hide all evidence of her sex, wearing a big coat and even lancing her growing breasts, the way she'd drain a cow's abscessed jaw. After finishing high school in town she returned to the family ranch, only to find she had no place of value there. So she accepted the inevitable: marriage to a man from a neighboring ranch. For 12 years Blunt lived in self-denial sneaking cigarettes, creeping into the calving shed to do the work she knew better than any man and bearing three children who were all she could call her own when she finally decided to leave. While she doesn't shy away from writing about hard times, Blunt's attention to detail and dry humor make this debut emboldening rather than depressing (e.g., her observation that one-room schoolhouses weren't great, but they afforded unintentional exposure to lessons a few years in advance). Her writing inspires respect for rural life and its "intimacy born of isolation, rather than blood relation." In this world without TV or books, with mail once a week at best, "a good story rose to the surface of conversation like heavy cream." Blunt's own story is so rich and genuine, readers will clean their plates and ask for seconds. (Feb. 12)Forecast: With an eight-city author tour, an NPR appearance, advertising to the literary community and word of mouth about this fine writer, sales should be considerable. Blunt's treatment of parental discipline, sibling relationships and town vs. country ways will appeal to readers far beyond Big Sky country.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Blunt was raised on a ranch in Montana, miles from the nearest town, and attended a one-room school where she and her siblings made up the majority of the students. On the ranch, she learned how to handle the day-to-day work of farm life and to remain in a subservient role to men. Eventually, after marriage and children, she abandoned ranch life for college and began writing award-winning poetry. In this nonfiction debut, Blunt proves to be a skillful writer, using beautiful prose to describe how she learned to survive in what remains a man's world. Unfortunately, she does not discuss in enough detail how the ranch life shaped her and made her want to "break clean." Thus, though her narrative is enjoyable to read, it carries no social implications. Collections with material on farm life or women in nontraditional careers will want to consider this title. Otherwise, this is not a necessary purchase. Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
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This is not the myth of "The American West" - this is what the West is.
But what Blunt does, as few writers can, is open her eyes and really look fully at the world, coming up with vivid, original descriptions of the animals, the land, the people around her. Those familiar with farm life may find their eyes reopened by Blunt's writing and those unfamiliar with it will simply love discovering this book.
But I warn you - it isn't an easy read. There are plenty of farm accidents, bitter weather and descriptions of a community filled with people who don't have time for softness. They're too busy trying to get through each day and simply survive. What is amazing is that one person, Blunt herself, not only survived but ended up being an amazing writer, bringing alive the world she lived in.
She has been added to my heros list for her writing as well as what she has lived through.I just bought two more for my best friends.
"Breaking Clean" attempts to extol the power of communal memory and shared experience by isolated women. Blunt discovers that despite geographic separation, women's experiences "translate into the same feelings." Her own life's history encourages her to conclude that "what mattered most was the story, the truth of what we tell ourselves" and eventually pass down to subsequent generations of women. The author never loses sight that while she lovingly describes the desolate beauty of a Montana praire and gracefully acknowledges its impact on the development of a unique personality, she does not permit geography to exert a deterministic power over her own self defintion. In this sense, Blunt, from an early age, has declared war on restrictions which bound her from full development.
Nowhere is this more vividly described that her useless battle with her own physical maturation. Outraged over her bodily changes occurring during puberty, Blunt tries to lance her own breast buds as a protest against anatomy's restrictions and social proscriptions due her lot as a woman. She resolves to battle sexist barriers with a burning desire to become an equal among rancheers. In an atmosphere where hard work and unsentimental vision are moral imperatives, where, as her grandfather proclaims, "This is no country for fools," Blunt develops a premature understanding of women's subordinate place. She winces at the scorn attached to the phrase: "women's work" and recoils at the idea that her mother is not accorded equal status despite her prowess inside and outside the home.
This rage against silent powerlessness follows Blunt as she undergoes her own personal transformation. With descriptive language that borders on the lyrical and narrative detail that spares no-one, Blunt chronicles her life on a family ranch, the emerging independence she relishes as a high-school student living away from home, and her eventual entrapment in a sterile, repressive marriage. Her anger never degenerates into self pity, her courage never wanders into hubris.
Though criticized for the inclusion of an event later discounted and repudiated, "Breaking Clean" is a vital and important memoir. Absolutely American in its affirmation of rugged individualism, uncompromising in its advocacy of equality and proudly praising the soaring, mysterious attraction of the Montana praire, this memoir will elicit strong reader response.