A misfit in Spooner, Wisconsin, with its farms, bars, and strip joints, Debra Monroe leaves to earn a degree, then another, and another, and builds a career—if only because her plans to be a midwestern housewife continually get scuttled. Fearless but naive, she vaults over class barriers but never quite leaves her past behind. When it comes to men, she’s still bluecollar. Negotiating the world of dating, Monroe pays careful attention to what love and sex mean to a woman ambivalent about her newfound status as “liberated.”
Both the story of her steady rise into the professional class and a parallel history of unsuitable exes, this memoir reminds us how accidental even a good life can be. If Joan Didion advises us “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be,” Monroe takes this advice a step further and nods at the people she might have become but didn’t. Funny, poignant, wise, My Unsentimental Education explores the confusion that ensues when a working-class girl ends up far from where she began.
This picaresque memoir of a woman with brains and desires (not always operating in unison) is a joy. It tracks a runaway life with consummate control and aphoristic wit.
Debra Monroe is a terrifically acute observer of the two worlds of women: her mother’s generation corseted in sexual and familial constraints; her own, in which lovers and addresses shift with the wind. She is able, in other words, to make just as many mistakes, only different ones. My Unsentimental Education
is very funny, not least at her own expense, and it raises a dozen potent questions about what has changed for a generation of women not so much disillusioned as unillusioned about what it means to 'live like a man.'
—Rosellen Brown, author of Cora Fry, Tender Mercies, and Half a Heart
Through a series of near pratfalls and sheer acrobatic strength, Debra Monroe integrates the schisms of 'taught' identity - a bumpy, if not bumptious, education shared by many, a charismatic story at once wildly entertaining, buoyant, and wise.
—Melissa Pritchard, author of The Odditorium and Palmerino
Funny, elegiac, beguiling, poignant, and deeply human, Debra Monroe’s memoir stitches together the disparate parts of a life. The accidental and mistaken matter too. They are a part of our curious alchemy of self, an alchemy that's felt in each ecstatic line of her prose.
—Scott Blackwood, author of We Agreed to Meet Just Here and See How Small
A warm recounting of a bumpy journey to surprising success . . . Monroe's candid memoir reads like a country ballad: a down-and-out woman, working at gritty jobs, gets entangled with Mr. Completely, Laughably Wrong. . . . But her unexpected story is far from a cliché.
Impressively well-written, exceptionally well-organized and presented, My Unsentimental Education
is a candid and thoroughly absorbing read from beginning to end, making it very highly recommended for both community and academic library American Biography collections.
—Margaret Lane, Midwest Book Review
Debra Monroe’s blue-collar-to-academia memoir My Unsentimental Education
is as well-written as it is wise.
—Joe O'Connell, Austin Chronicle
While this book is engaging as an account of its author's intellectual and occupational awakening as well as her adventures—or misadventures, really—in sex and relationships, it is above all a love story, but with poetry and fiction more than with any person, and that's what makes it a pleasure to read. Monroe's enthusiasm for literature is contagious, and she writes, delightfully, like someone who not only reads but who has made a study of reading.
—Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune