After reading the first few words of the freshman collection by Pam Houston, Cowboys Are My Weakness, I fell in love, fell in love with her controlled lyricism, her romantic tableau of open skies and tall mountains, her encapsulation of stoic and strong and hurtful men, her sense of unbridled and impassioned adventure, depicted in her highly autobiographical narrators. During a recent jaunt to the local library, I found her second collection, Waltzing the Cat, nestled in between a handful of adult contemporary mystery and crime and romance. Though slightly different in structure than her first collection, following one single protagonist narrator chronologically as she navigates her relationships with friends, lovers, family, and self, as opposed to numerous varied female voices, these stories did not at all disappoint. Enthralled, I journeyed with Lucy O'Rourke, famed adventure and outdoor sports photographer, as she tries to make a life for herself in San Francisco away from her beloved rivers and mountains, as she is trapped in a jalopy sailboat in squall with two men, as she inherits a dilapidated ranch from her estranged maternal grandmother.
Houston writes with a beautiful precision and a profound sense of integrating the bittersweet humor and pain inherent in the life of a woman seeking compatible, physically and emotionally fulfilling companionship. Though her narrators are women, in this case one particular woman, who grows and lays her triumphs and mistakes on the page, Houston has a profound understanding of the masculine, whether that be manifested in the men Lucy loves and loathes, or the women. Intimacies, both transient and eternal, are portrayed elegantly and truthfully. I believe her stories and believe her characters.
Aside from admiring her astute craft, I violently admire Pam Houston, the woman, the type that I wish I could be and would want to be. A wanton wanderer, willing to take risks and adventure, refusing a stagnant path of security and monotony. Fiercely independent. Unafraid of disappointing her parents, her friends. Like me, born and bred on the east coast, she released the fetters of tradition and responsibility, so potent here, for the west; since being introduced to her work, I fantasize wildly about abandoning this life. I have run a white water rapid river, never summited a craggy peak, and I hope one day to at least relinquish my fear and try, but until then, I can always rely on the work of Houston for a visceral resurgence and a powerful dose of beautiful truth.
(image taken from University of Montana-Western)