FICTION

BALSAMROOT: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew. (Viking: $20.95; 212 pp.) Mary Clearman Blew, author of "All But the Waltz," and two short story collections, is on some people's best western writing short list. Born and raised in Montana, much of her writing ferrets out the Montana history and landscape in her own life experiences; characters from her youth and ancestry are analyzed for the choices they made with an eye to the choices she's making. In this book she ponders her relationship to quickly aging and newly dependent aunt, as well as an estranged and angry daughter. Efforts to honor the family code: "Never speak aloud of what you feel deeply," make these urgent tasks somewhat difficult and a little frustrating for the reader. When, as a reader, you feel the urge to do group therapy, it's time to focus on the fine writing; on the plant and animal life in the book; on the wonderful terse evocation of her maiden aunt's one love affair.

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