Bound Like Grass is McLaughlin's account of her own — and her family's — struggle to survive on their isolated wheat and cattle farm. With acute observation, she explores her roots as a descendant of Swedish American grandparents who settled in Montana at the turn of the twentieth century with high ambitions, and of parents who barely managed to eke out a living on their own neighboring farm.
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In unvarnished prose, McLaughlin reveals the costs of homesteading on such unforgiving land, including emotional impoverishment and a necessary thrift bordering on deprivation. Yet in this bleak world, poverty also inspired ingenuity. Ruth learned to self-administer a fashionable razor haircut, ignoring slashes to her hands; her brother taught himself to repair junk cars until at last he built one to carry him far away. Ruth also longs for a richer, brighter life, but when she finally departs, she finds herself an alien in a modern world of relative abundance. While leaving behind a life of hardship and hard luck, she remains bound — like the long, intertwining roots of prairie grass — to the land and to the memories that tie her to it.