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.