Range rover: Blunt breaks clean and thrives

Charlottesville is giddy with the glories of the West. Thanks to the Lewis & Clark bicentennial, virtually every aspect of the land beyond the Bitterroots has been gilded with the majesty of discovery and the glory of hardship. Western expansion is destiny; the frontier is sexy. Here comes Judy Blunt, right on cue.
Blunt is a poet and essayist, and the author of Breaking Clean, a powerful purgative for the homesteader mystique. Her memoir tells the story of growing up on a Montana ranch in the 1950’s, where indoor plumbing and electricity were rarities and one-room schoolhouses and teenage marriages the norm.
Happy enough as a child of hard-working ranch-hands, Blunt sees her life take an unsatisfactory turn when she agrees to be a rancher’s wife at age 18. There’s nothing romantic her hard-scrabble marriage, her TV-less childrearing, her unappreciated toiling as both house-hand and ranch-hand. It takes her 12 years to pack up her three children and leave her home and husband in the dust behind her truck.
Breaking Clean is, on some level, a story about a failed marriage. But in leaving her husband, Blunt also abandoned her roots. Hers was the life of her mother and her grandmother, both of whom also endured unyielding men and relentless land. Does her departure brand the third generation as weaker or stronger? More or less stubborn?
Blunt now lives in Missoula, which for folks not from Montana may sound as though she didn’t get very far. After all, she hasn’t really rejected her heritage as long as she remains in Big Sky Country. But the University of Montana must have been as stark a difference from the rural ranches of Blunt’s first 30 years as a foreign country would have been. More than just moving from Dairy Queen to Starbuck’s, Blunt chose self-expression over self-preservation. She chose improvement over maintenance. Mostly, she opted for recognition.
Since 1986, Blunt has received several awards and fellowships. Breaking Clean (now available in paperback from Alfred A. Knopf ) is her first book, but she has published other work in many journals. She’s a strong, lyrical writer who has taken the creed “write what you know” to heart.
Her story should be an inspiration to women, poets and aspirers of all ilk. Her voice is a wake-up call for those with a Lewis & Clark hangover.

Judy Blunt will lead a discussion of “Breaking Clean” at New Dominion Bookshop on Tuesday, January 28, at 5:30pm. 404 E. Market St. on the Downtown Mall, 295-2552.

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