These powerful portraits span five generations of Blew's family's struggles to survive on the desolate ranchlands of central Montana, beginning in 1882. A bleaker view of home on the range is hard to imagine. Most of the men seem hopeless romantics, tragically flawed, while the women, who appear trapped in a he-man world, persevere--often heroically. To fiction writer Blew ( Runaway ) women like her schoolteacher grandmother and ranch-wife mother are the family pillars; her father and grandfather remain perplexing, despite her efforts to understand them. Blew concludes with a stirring description of her own ambivalent connection to this rugged part of the world. (Sept.)
Blew continues in the excellent tradition of Lambing Out (Univ. of Missouri Pr., 1977) and Runaway (Confluence Pr., 1990), recipient of a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. This collection of 11 stories centers on life along the cut banks of the Judith River in the Great Plains of central Montana. The river, little more than an alkali creek, is the locus for four generations. These stories spin cycles of hardship, bitterness, and death. Most are in the first person, revealing a unique woman's perspective of ranching life and expectations. Blew's style reflects the oral tradition of the tale. Yet her accounts never lapse into sentimentality, though some are clearly painful to tell. Similar in scope to Ivan Doig's Ride with Me, Mariah Montana ( LJ 9/15/90) and English Creek ( LJ 10/1/84) or William Kittredge's We Are Not in This Together (Graywolf, 1984), this is a haunting account of life in the West. Highly recommended.-- Daniel Liestman, Seattle Pacific Univ.
In her first essay collection, Blew (a story collection, Runaway, 1990—not reviewed) joins the top echelon with 11 virtuoso pieces on life and death on the Montana Plains. Blew writes of growing up on a hard-scrabble ranch; her father had her on horseback working cattle at age seven. His dream was that his two girls would become his partners in the ranch, but Blew's mother laid down the law that they must go to school. After Blew went to college and didn't return, her father wouldn't speak to her for years. One day, he told his wife he was going to the mine for a load of coal and drove off in his pickup to die. He was found, heart stopped, head cradled in arm, on a ridge overlooking a bend in the Powder River. Elsewhere, Blew tells of her maiden aunt Imogene, who began teaching in one-room schoolhouses in 1927. The lone women teachers were expected to carry their own coal, start the schoolhouse stove in 30-degrees-below-zero winters and live in a one-room teacherage behind the school with only a kerosene lamp and a bucket of spring water. In their isolated posts, they were vulnerable to rape. When "the boys" came for her, she ran them off with a rifle. Blew also speaks of the M‚tis—buffalo-chasing descendants of French fur traders and Cree women; Hutterites—a Mennonite-like sect called "fur-bearing Christians" because of their beards; Japanese railroad workers—so scorned that, in a history for the 1988 centennial celebration of statehood, the 1888 census of donkeys was listed but any reference to the substantial 1888 population of Japanese omitted. Surrounding all are the vast, lonely plains: sagebrush and mirages and blue buttes. When Blew's great-aunt was born,cowboys rode for miles to see her, so starved were they for the sight of a baby. Subtle prose that transports to a magical place, dissolving the line between memory and the present. A superbly realized vision.