Postfeminist toughness and post-hippie sentiment are the alternating currents of this wry, tender novel by Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness; Waltzing the Cat; etc.) about a Colorado playwright and her beloved Irish wolfhound. Rae hasn’t had much luck with men, but her love for her dog Dante is pure and uncomplicated. When he is diagnosed with cancer, she puts all of her energies into prolonging his life, volunteering him for experimental surgery. The ups and downs of the three years he spends in remission are narrated from the perspective of the motley friends who float in Rae’s out-sized orbit. Chief among these is Howard, the adorably histrionic actor whose love is Rae’s main consolation for the looming loss of Dante; there’s also Darlene, Rae’s tough-as-nails housekeeper, who keeps things running at the ranch while Rae’s at her Denver apartment or traveling to exotic places.
Then there’s restless, jaded Jonathan, Rae’s fellow playwright and best friend; Jodi, the young bride of a surrealist painter, who moves to Colorado and finds a soul mate in Rae; Dr. Evans, the driven vet who labors to save Dante; and Brooklyn Underhill, Dr. Evans’s idealistic young ex-soldier assistant. And of course, Dante has his own say, as does Rae’s rambunctious second dog, Rose, and Darlene’s cat, Stanley. Houston isn’t afraid to venture into boggy terrain—readers who squirm at the notion that dogs have human “moms” and “souls as deep and authentic as anything in creation” will resist being carried along at first—but the novel’s humor and irony are bracing, and different voices provide welcome contrasts in tone. Houston’s gift for capturing the dynamic of unorthodox webs of relationships is on pleasing display in this gruffly warmhearted novel.
reviewer: Publishers Weekly
A Little More About Me
In Pam Houston’s can’t-put-down collection of essays, A Little More About Me, she describes her globe-trotting adventures spanning five continents with candor and humor, but it’s the emotional journey that hits home. We travel vicariously as Houston treks through the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan or dozes while a pride of lions passes her Botswana campsite, but we’re right there with her when she talks about her anger-filled childhood, her lifelong obsession with weight, and of course, a penchant for strong, silent types. Her willingness to put herself at risk is her way of coping with these insecurities–each victory on skis or in hiking boots a triumph over those nasty demons.
A self-professed nature nut (this is a woman who owns her own horses), Houston is addicted to the next challenge (she’s broken seven bones and has twice had search parties sent out for her). Through self-reflection and therapy, however, she’s come to realize that saying no to a dangerous endeavor can be just as empowering as conquering any class V rapid. When she opts not to continue a particularly tricky climb in her essay “On (Not) Climbing the Grand Teton,” she explains that “true success [lies] within the failure, in listening to my fear and standing firm in my desire to go back down.”
Houston’s writing is straightforward and doesn’t get mired in innuendo–she tells it like it is. And because she’s not afraid to admit her fears and mistakes, we truly root for her to achieve the balance she’s seeking. Though some might find it hard to empathize with someone whose concessions include drawing the line at camping out in 20-degree-below temperatures rather than 60-below, on a fundamental level we can relate. Our coping mechanisms might not be as detrimental to our health, but they are just as real. The powerful messages in A Little More About Me are well worth pondering.
reviewer: Jill Fergus, Amazon.com
Waltzing the Cat
Pam Houston, best-selling author of Cowboys Are My Weakness, returns to the subject of relationships in her captivating new book, Waltzing the Cat. This time, her heroine is Lucy O’Rourke, a bright, successful landscape photographer in her early thirties, whose life, nonetheless, “seems like one false start after another, way too much up and down to keep winding up at the very same place.”
More often than not, that “place” is an unsatisfying relationship. Convinced that “anybody is better than nobody,” Lucy takes up with a string of men bound to hurt and disappoint her. In these 11 intertwined and insightful stories, we meet Gordon, the lover turned stalker with “a jealous streak as vicious as a heat seeking missile”; blond, beautiful Carter, who is so physically and emotionally distant that Lucy dubs their relationship “virtual love”; and Erik, a brilliant Norwegian, who “keeps it together to the tune of a fifth and half of tequila a day.”
reviewer: BETH DURIS, Book Page
Cowboys Are My Weakness
“Every once in a while I come across a book like Pam Houston’s book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, which serves not just to reinforce my love of writing and reading, but also reaches inside to do something much greater: reinforce the joy of being alive.
This first collection of short stories by this now established author focuses on narrators who live out west and find themselves time and again learning the same lessons. They learn how to love the wrong man, how to leave him, and how to handle being the one left. They learn what it means to take pride in themselves and at the end of the day try to figure out a way to be happy with who they are and who they want to become.”
reviewer: LAURA DAVE, Renaissance Magazine