Sharon's Reviews > Contents May Have Shifted

Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
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's review
Feb 19, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: pacific-u-mfa

Reading Pam Houston gives me courage. I studied with her the second semester of my MFA and count her as a big influence. I will never be adventurous in the outdoors sense, the way she is. But I do aspire to her fearlessness in writing.

It’s not just the structure (144 short chapters, conceived as 144 reasons not to commit suicide). It’s not just the sleight of hand that makes the intimate-funny-smart voice of the narrator Pam sound just like but even better than the author’s own voice. It’s not just the sense that at any moment our heroine could fall out of the sky as her plane nose-dives or that our lives are all hanging on a wisp of cumulous cloud.

It’s the language: e.g. “the handsome-in-a-rangy, greyhoundesque-way flight attendant”). It’s the one-sentence spot-on portrait of adolescence: (“Kara, fifteen, put about a milliliter of [pasta sauce] on the tip of her tongue and shrugged, said, “It’s not your best work.”) It’s that this Pam, the narrator of the book, pulls people’s secret stories out of them, the way I hope to be able to do someday. How does she get her (male) ophthalmologist to tell her this: “I want to say this in a way that makes you think I am a normal person. My daughter Penelope still sleeps with me. She’s twelve.” Reading this book is like reading people’s minds. The tone is so personal and confessional sounding, she makes us believe it is all true, even though it is fiction, one of Houston's signature tricks.
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