BREAKING CLEAN

Judy Blunt, Author . Knopf $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-40131-2

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.

Reviewed on: 11/19/2001
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-375-70130-6
Paperback - 301 pages - 978-0-7531-9823-0
Hardcover - 371 pages - 978-0-7531-9822-3
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