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Breaking Clean

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  972 Ratings  ·  137 Reviews
Blunt has turned the memories of her childhood and young adulthood in rural Montana into a beautifully written memoir that is a meditation on how land and her life will always be intertwined. A must read.

Born into a third generation of Montana homesteaders, Judy Blunt learned early how to "rope and ride and jockey a John Deere," but also to "bake bread and can vegetables a
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 7th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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Dec 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Judy Blunt's Breaking Clean continued my recent trend of reading books about the West, and like most of the Western authors I've picked up recently, Blunt tells her story in a sparse, no-holds-barred way that I both appreciate and identify with. She takes it one step further, though, making explicit her thoughts and feelings about the role of women in the West in a way that other writers (Annie Proulx and Pam Houston come to mind) haven't. The book is simply fabulous.

Breaking Clean is a fairly c
Mar 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Rosana by: Sarah
Shelves: 2008, memoirs-diaries
Well, I actually live on a prairie ranch 50 miles from the closest town, so Judy Blunt’s memoir certainly resonates with me. Her insights are written with an almost poetic prose and her voice conveys great strength. I envy her ability to articulate with such clarity the complex web of human relations that are so hardly shaped by the prairie environment and history. The struggle – and pain - to conform to gender roles; the isolation of long winters and muddy spring roads; the distrust of anything ...more
Jun 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I saw so much of myself, my family & community in this book. Powerful, thoughtfully written, brought me to tears & laughter on the same page. Blunt captures the voice of the ranchwoman perfectly. This book forced me to look at the uneasy pull between wanting to emulate your grandmother's grace & strength & the desire to leave behind the ranch way of life that limits women's choices & voice.

Wonderful writing in this memoir! Blunt takes the reader right inside her life--and her mind--and the journey is sometimes painful, the emotion raw. If I had any complaint it would be that the telling is a little fragmented with experiences related out of chronological order which had me needing to go back to read the first chapter or so again after finishing the book.

This book really packs a punch and made me think; I definitely won't be forgetting it any time soon. 3.5 to 4 stars
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Judy Blunt’s memoir Breaking Clean is a crisp, sharp, enjoyable read. Blunt carries her reader through a wide range of emotions as she travels through her youth in Montana. Her writing is engaging in its simplicity. Her subject matter, in many ways, familiar.
Though few of us have experienced Big Sky country and all of the harsh realities that go with that life, especially as a child, we have all experienced isolation, disappointment, parental abandonment, and rebellions in one way or another.
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had this book sitting on my shelves for quite some time because I wasn't sure if I could handle reading it or not. This back covers mention growing up in a world and a culture where women are not viewed as equal, which strikes a bit too close to home for me in some ways. I am glad I was finally willing to pick it up and dive in, though. The author is quite gifted in painting with words the world of the prairie out on the Highline in Montana and the joys and struggles of growing up in a hand-to ...more
Judy Blunt was born in mid-century northern Montana, a hardscrabble land where men held power and women put up and shut up. Breaking Clean is a haunting series of essays about Blunt's childhood and marriage in this place of stark beauty and isolation - a place she eventually left to find her own voice and her value as a human being.

I read an article in which Blunt stated that her book was not necessarily about her journey away from ranch life, but rather about her struggle to stay. Her strength,
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastic. It was the first time I read a memoir that truly moved me and I have not forgotten the story after all these years. In fact, I think of this author often. I grew up in Montana, but not the area she describes, and I think it's a fascinating tale for anyone from anywhere. I loved the tone she took to describe her experiences and how she processed them and the actions she felt she had to take. I think I read later that she became a professor of writing (U of M in Missoula?) ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Completely arresting. I was engrossed from the first page by this tale of rural resilience. The narrative is extraordinarily detailed (how can the author remember everything she's described is beyond me) and written in language that matches the toughness of her upbringing. Blunt also offers a harsh look at the culture of her ranching community, with honesty about its sexism and racism, its narrow viewpoints, and its willfully contrary isolation. But what stuck with me was the book's enthralling ...more
Feb 19, 2012 rated it liked it
I had a hard time with this book - and I had a lot of questions afterwards. Why couldn't she be happy where she was? Why couldn't she make her husband understand and treat her like a partner? Ok - if I must be honest- I think her LACK of communication was a huge part of it. And mabye that's the point - the "voice" she talks about finding took her that long. She shut out her husband from the beginning - couldn't talk to him, couldn't stand up for herself with the in-laws, etc.

I wonder about her k
Nov 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have been on a bit of Western kick lately. I heard about this memoir from an article on books of the New West. Two of the five books I absolutely loved (Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge and James Galvin's The Meadow) and this was the only one of the other three that the library had. So I gave it a go.

Since I read about it alongside the two previously mentioned books, I was probably constantly comparing them. And this book simply did not stand up to them. As far as memoirs go, it was OK. Blunt te
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Stories are the lessons of a year or a decade or a life broken into chunks you can swallow. But the heart of a story lies in the act of telling, the passing on. (pg. 136) - Too bad Ms. Blunt did not take her own words to heart.

Like [a previous reder], I was hoping for more about life in the Midwest;Having read this book, I am unsure exactly what it was meant to convey.
Growing up in a small town, I could relate to her discriptions of the "eyes" that saw your every move, even when your parents wer
Apr 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
...I feel like the author has ADHD. She is all over the place and it's hard to keep track of events.

Breaking Clean is about the authors life growing up on a remote farm in Montana set in the 1950's. Her hardships, poverty, isolation, education, and returning to farm and isolation as a young married wife.

I read that Judy Blunt was gaining recognition much like Frank McCourt with her style of writing, her story, and similarities of poverty. Unfortunately, I cannot agree. The only similarity they s
Cher Johnson
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. She's a great writer, and every time I put the book down I couldn't wait to pick it up again. Another reviewer commented on her many skills (training horses, birthing calves, growing a huge vegetable garden and canning, etc., all while raising three children) Often the cruel truth of what it's like for humans and animals to live in a such a harsh physical climate and in such an unyielding social structure would leave me feeling sad and bruised, but then her adventures and triu ...more
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who's parents/grandparents worked the land
Judy Blunt was a third generation ranch wife in Montana. She literally broke free of that life in her 30's, moved her kids to Missoula to get her degree and is now a writer there. The writing is clean and frank. It gave me a very vivid image of farm life and I actually feel like I learned some things about animals and crops (or learned enough to know I need to learn). She describes that life so well but without judgment - it just is. It helped me understand how hard small farmers work and how so ...more
Dorothy Rice
Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Vivid memoir of the author's early years in a third generation homesteading family in Montana. The natural environment, replete with blizzards, fires and extreme isolation are the dramatic canvas for growing up and coming to terms with the need to break clean of the her family's heritage and a woman's place in ranching. Poignant portrayals of strong men, women and children in constrained roles and of the animals that are relied on for food and survival. Highly recommended for those interested in ...more
Jun 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Yet another of a combination to which I'm strongly drawn: excellent descriptions of place mixed with a strong woman who overcomes adversity. Fantastic and vivid descriptions of events. She's a marvelous story teller.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is the story of a woman who grew up in the prairies of Montana on a ranch. She gives her family's history on the land, followed by her formative years and her marriage, which ultimately led to divorce and her own reinvention. Most of the book is about her life on the ranch as a child and a married woman, interspersed with her life as a boarder in town attending school. Blunt's life corresponded with growing independence for women in the 20th century, so it was fascinating to see her st ...more
I saved for three years and bought my typewriter from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. I typed the first line while the cardboard carton lay around it in pieces. I wrote in a cold sweat on long strips of freezer paper that emerged from the keys thick and rich with ink. At first I only wrote at night when the children and John slept, emptying myself onto the paper until I could lie down. Then I began writing during the day, when the men were working in the fields. The children ran brown and wild
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-reads
Enjoyed this book but it was a little unsentimental for me that proved hard to connect. Though I understand this adds to the sense of dislocation and isolation of the memoir. Some beautiful moments but perhaps too much time spent on childhood because the last third of the book feels a little rushed. Overall, an enjoyable read and a glimpse into frontier life.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Always love a good Montana Book!
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My aunt and uncle lived about 60 miles from where this story took place, and my aunt talked about the hardships of their earlier years in this part of Montana. Blunt does an amazing job of telling of the struggle involved in human relations that are so shaped by the prairie environment and history. The struggle – and pain - to conform to gender roles; the isolation of long winters and muddy spring roads; the distrust of anything new.

Leaving the ranch - and husband - to go live in town, so the c
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A wonderful memoir by Montanan Judy Blunt, who writes about growing up on a cattle ranch as a third generation rancher on the Montana high plains. Fortunately, in addition to learning all things ranching - a foreign world to me - she learned how to write enormously well. This is a woman who can break in a horse, rope a calf, kill a snake, can thousands of jars of garden produce, butcher just about any animal, raise kids, help a cow calve, and then write about it all in fascinating, perfect pitch ...more
Joanna Mendelsohn
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it
It's not a long read, yet Judy Blunt takes you quickly and deeply into life on the prairie. For a city girl this life seems at times magical.and other times completely unfathomable. Why would anyone choose such a hard way to live. Yet, you can tell that those who live there have the Prairie in them to the core, even when they too move away.
Oct 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
A memoir of a life on a midwest ranch. The hard work and loneliness, involved in this lifestyle makes me wonder why any women ever stay on the ranches.

No Rules Book Club Notes:Karen had met the author when she toured Montana last year and has communicated with her a few times since.

Breaking Clean is the story of expectations for a typical farm woman's life in the hardscrabble prairie of Montana. Her work is difficult and necessary to the success of the ranch.Because of her sex her work earned he
Nov 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody
You can pick apart,feel sorry for yourself and find bad in anything if you try too and that's exactly what this author did.She took a lively hood,a traditional way of living and for the majority of people that live it a VERY happy way of living and tore it apart.

She complain's and speak's in horror of this way of life but fails to acknowledge one important fact:she made these choice's.If she didn't like it she could have made other choices and left the people she insulted in this book alone.

Tanya T
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
On a shopping trip i spied this book in the sale bin at our used book store. 99 cents, i felt i couldn't go wrong. I'm so glad i picked up this book. I really enjoyed the author's writing style, i felt i was right there with her in every event in her life.
I know this author's experience as a Rancher's Wife was mostly in the 1970's but it left me wondering has the role of the Rancher's wife changed all that much since then?
There was a time in my life when would fantasize about what life would b
Kristine Stevens
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
A well written, engaging look into the author's childhood and the struggle that led to her adulthood. Considering how strongly she connected with the vast Montana landscape and how that love was overshadowed by the sexist expectations/demands made of rancher wives, I was disappointed that there was no scene of the moment when she decided to break from that rural life and her rancher husband and relocate with her three children to the big city of Missoula. This life-altering shift was probably th ...more
Jan 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wavered between wanting to keep turning the pages to wondering why she hasn't written anything else, that she turned her life upside down with little result. This is a more contemporary Little House on the Prairie with several big stories like the blizzard of '64, Judy birthing a calf by herself, and her odious father-in-law in various guises as a a tyrant whose rule prevailed. This says it all about living on a ranch where it wasn't always possible to get to civilization, "With the first bliz ...more
Sep 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Some beautiful writing, especially the first half, then it gets bogged down in a whine fest, she has three children under five years old, as many of us have, she had a big garden and canned alot, as many of us have, she fought with her parents as a teenager (yawn), her father would leave the land to her brother, not fair at all but what's ever fair regarding women. Not quite sure of the point of the blow by blow of her childs high fever and how they got to the hospital on muddy roads. Every stay ...more
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Judy Blunt was raised on a cattle ranch in a remote area of Phillips County, Montana, USA near Regina, Montana, south of Malta, Montana. In 1986 she moved with her three small children to Missoula, Montana to attend the University of Montana.

She later turned the tales of her ranch life into an award-winning memoir, titled Breaking Clean (Knopf 2002), which won Whiting Writers' Award, the PEN/Jerar
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“I came to recognize the landscape of my life in the lives of many women. Their stories and the places they spoke of spanned a world beyond my experience, from mill towns to suburbs, from logging camps to ethnic neighborhoods, from inner cities to Indian reservations. Few shared my place of origin or the events of my life, but many, it seems, shared my experience. Listening to their stories, I came to understand how women can be isolated by circumstances as well as by distance, and how our experiences, though geographically distinct, often translated into the same feelings. Away from the physical presence of my past, I found it easy to argue that what mattered most was the story, the truth of what we tell ourselves, the versions we pass along to our daughters. But as I stood in the living room of my rock house that afternoon, I was again reminded of the enormous power of this prairie, its silence and the whisper I made inside it. I had forgotten how easily one person can be lost here.” 2 likes
“Word from the outside, whether it arrived in a mail sack or a news report, seldom overshadowed the facts of our lives. We talked in facts -- work and weather, the logistics of this fence, that field -- but stories were how we spoke. A good story rose to the surface of a conversation like heavy cream, a thing to be savored and served artfully. Stored in dry wit, wrapped in dark humor, tied together with strings of anecdote, these stories told the chronology of a family, the history of a piece of land, the hardships of a certain year or a span of years, a series of events that led without pause to the present. If the stories were recent, they filtered through the door to my room late at night, voices hushed around the kitchen table as they sorted out this day and held it against others, their laughter sharp and sad and slow to come. Time was the key. Remember the time...and something in the air caught like a whisper. Back when. Back before a summer too fresh and real to talk about, a year's work stripped in a twenty-minute hailstorm; a man's right hand mangled in the belts of a combine, first day of harvest; an only son buried alive in a grain bin, suffocated in a red avalanche of wheat.” 2 likes
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