A memoir of growing up a cattleman’s daughter in northeastern Montana in the 1950s and ’60s.
The life of someone who lives off the land provides rich material for any writer, and newcomer Blunt, born in 1954, could have chosen any of a number of approaches in recalling her own. Memorable incidents from childhood on her father’s hardpan ranch include a 36-hour blizzard that froze the extremities off some of his cattle. She got her formal education in a one-room grammar schoolhouse and completed it by moving to the nearest town and boarding in an upstairs bedroom at Mrs. Crowder’s, where Blunt’s older brother shared a basement room with another student from an outlying ranch. Blunt fumbled toward adulthood and womanhood in a world where gender roles had remained constant for generations; meanwhile, late-’60s pressures infiltrated her remote corner of the country. At 18, she married a rancher and Vietnam vet 12 years her senior; she bore him three children. In 1986, at age 32, newly divorced and with more lifetimes of experiences to her credit than most, she and her kids moved to Missoula, where she continued her education. No biographical sketch of Blunt, however, can convey the depth of this literary achievement. Each of the 13 sections here stands on its own: substantial, powerful segments of writing organized around some larger theme. They read like something out of the late-19th century, particularly those years when only the novel could bridge the disjunctions between society and self. Inheriting the literary territory previously claimed by Ingalls Wilder and Cather, Blunt (who’s just been named a Whiting Writer’s 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.