My Unsentimental Education

A Memoir by Debra Monroe

A smart and lyrical take on the isolation that occurs when people switch social classes quickly


“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.”
—Phillip Lopate

“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 . . . 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 Half a Heart

“Funny, beguiling, poignant, deeply human . . . The accidental and mistaken matter, too, Debra Monroe says. 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 See How Small

“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 Palmerino

"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."
Kirkus Reviews

"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, The 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, The 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

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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.

Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction

Page count: 256
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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List price: $19.95

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Debra Monroe teaches in the MFA Program at Texas State University. She is the author of several books, including The Source of Trouble (winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award) and most recently On the Outskirts of Normal.