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Breaking Cleanby Judy Blunt
1997 PEN/Jerard Fund Award for a work in progress
2001 Whiting Writers? Award.
Synopses & Reviews
In this extraordinary literary debut third-generation homesteader Judy Blunt describes her hardscrabble life on the prairies of eastern Montana in prose as big and bold as the landscape.
On a ranch miles from nowhere, Judy Blunt grew up with cattle and snakes, outhouse and isolation, epic blizzards and devastating prairie fires. She also grew up with a set of rules and roles prescribed to her sex long before she was born, a chafing set of strictures she eventually had no choice but to flee, taking along three children and leaving behind a confused husband and the only life shed ever known. Gritty, lyrical, unsentimental and wise, Breaking Clean is at once informed by the myths of the West and powerful enough to break them down.
"Staunch and unblinking. . . . If there is a trace of sentimentality [in Breaking Clean] I couldn't find it, which is why this book is such a valuable addition to the literature of place and the literature of passage." Bill McKibben, The Washington Post
"[Judy Blunt] has turned the memories of her childhood and young adulthood into a beautifully written memoir that is a meditation on how land and her life will always be intertwined ." Miriam Wolf, The San Francisco Chronicle
"In Breaking Clean, Blunt strikes a delightfully tense, unsteady balance and . . . like an accomplished bucking bronco rider... masterfully maintains it throughout a wild-ride of a memoir." Los Angeles Times
"A remarkable literary achievement. It is destined to be a classic in the literature of Western women; excerpts should end up in school anthologies for their brilliant evocation of blizzards and one-room schools." Sandra Scofield, The Oregonian
"What makes Blunt's book different from anything I've ever read about the West is the delicate eloquence with which she captures the cost of these hard lives on people's souls....Judy Blunt is such a natural writer and this book is so good, it's unthinkable to imagine that she might have never pursued this craft." Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times Book Review
"Judy Blunt lived in a beloved country among beloved people. She grew up knowing blizzards and good horses, working cattle all day and then getting dinner on the table, impassable roads to town and babies with raging fevers — a resolute country girl who became a ranch wife on the shortgrass plains of Montana. And she tells of leaving, the price of insisting on her right to fashion her own life. Breaking Clean is vivid and compelling, a classical American memoir." William Kittredge, author of The Nature of Generosity
"A memoir with the fierce narrative force of an eastern Montana blizzard, rich in story and character, filled with the bone-chilling details of Blunt?s childhood. She writes without bitterness, with an abiding love of the land and the work and her family and friends that she finally left behind, at great sacrifice, to begin to write. This is a magnificent achievement, a book for the ages. I?ve never read anything that compares with it." James Crumley, author of The Last Good Kiss
"[An] astonishing literary debut, a dramatic and heartbreaking memoir...honed from difficult circumstances and crackling with energy long pent up...Having prevailed over a life of extreme isolation, Blunt manages to escape with poetry and feeling intact, singularly able to relive, with both aching honesty and occasional joy, a fascinating, ferocious coming of age." Elle
"Blunt is, to put it another way, scarily good — so right on, so focused, so in-your-face that you have to take the book slowly to cushion the blow....She writes without remorse, without flinching, striking matches off the scuffed soles of her feelings. When a writer can do that — make it real and make it matter — the world comes almost painfully alive." National Geographic Adventure
"No biographical sketch of Blunt can convey the depth of this literary achievement....Inheriting the literary territory previously claimed by Ingalls Wilder and Cather, Blunt (who's just been named a Whiting Writers' Award recipient) builds on their accomplishments, yet marks American literature in her own way. To shoehorn this into mere category or classification is to insult its power. Profound, and profoundly moving." Kirkus Reviews, *starred* review
"In its precise, arresting descriptions of a working farm and its careful re-creation of how Blunt ultimately came to break free, this masterful debut is utterly strange, suspenseful and surprising — a story whose threads connecting past and present are as transparent as cobwebs but as strong as barbed wire." Time Out New York
"Blunt's attention to detail and dry humor make this debut emboldening. Her writing inspires respect for rural life and its 'intimacy born of isolation, rather than blood relation.'" Publishers Weekly, *starred* review
"A lover of land in a land almost unlivable, a natural matriarch born and bred to patriarchy, a seer of complex truths among admirers of terse adages, Judy Blunt seems, at a glance, a classic misfit. But in this miracle of memoir she transcends the misfit's rancor to tell a story heroic, from beginning to end, for its perfect pitch. Breaking Clean is not mercilessly but mercifully honest. Doing what it must to free its stunning song, it leaves the culture, the land, and even the husband it rejects their dignity. It is a masterpiece." David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K
"Beautifully written . . . A lyrical account of [Judy Blunt's] struggle to escape the isolation and restriction of ranch life while, at the same time, honoring the ways in which such a far-flung community can come together in times of crisis and celebration. . . . Heartbreaking, mesmerizing, dramatic, crafted with a keen eye toward detail and a poet's sense of language, this memoir breaks new ground and brings a fresh perspective to the myth of rugged individualism that has for so long defined the rural West. Blunt's contribution to the literature of the West is enormous, but her contribution to the genre of memoir is even greater." Kim Barnes, author of In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
"[Blunt] dissolves the romantic myths that shroud what is in fact a perpetually embattled way of life, one she both reveres and reviles. Hopefully, Blunt will keep honig her keen and poetic awareness, steely candor, and commanding storytelling skills and continue telling the true story of women in the West." Booklist
This bestselling literary debut--now available in paperback--is the true story of a remarkable woman's life in the contemporary American West, where the lessons she learned carried her through blizzards, devastating prairie fires, and extreme isolation. 1 map. 1 illustration.
About the Author
Judy Blunt spent more than thirty years on wheat and cattle ranches in northeastern Montana, before leaving in 1986 to attend the University of Montana. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is the recipient of a Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship and a Montana Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship. She lives in Missoula, Montana.
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