BALSAMROOT by Mary Clearman Blew


A Memoir
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 As Blew (All But the Waltz, 1991) watches her long-idolized aunt Imogene slide into dementia, she wisely analyzes past and present to create a stronger self and a more honest future. Imogene was born of the stark and dusty Montana plains at a time when women were expected to marry and raise children. Instead, she became a schoolteacher and moved away from her family, as far west as possible, to the end of Washington's Olympic peninsula, to live an independent and solitary life. Things change when Imogene, age 79, wakes up one morning and doesn't remember how to make oatmeal; subsequently she sells her house and moves to Lewiston, Idaho, to be near her niece. At the same time, Blew's daughter from her first marriage, whom she hasn't seen in several years, comes for a visit and announces that she's divorcing her husband and moving to Lewiston to attend veterinary school. If Blew had trouble juggling her seven-year-old daughter Rachel from her second (failed) marriage and teaching grad school and writing, what a shock to find that her aunt, who's always provided a haven in times of distress, now needs care, and her older daughter, who feels so foreign to her (``Depression after my divorce erased my young womanhood...until I feel almost certain that Rachel is the only child I ever had''), might become a friend. While Blew struggles with practical choices, like residential care, she also struggles with spiritual ones, recognizing that she knows nothing of the real Imogene except what she'd needed to see and so has no idea where her aunt goes when she falls ``through the hole in her mind.'' Blew turns to Imogene's journals for clues to break down her family's unstated code--``never speak aloud of what you feel deeply''--and is surprised to find her own voice. Sagebrush and sage.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-84857-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994


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