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Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel Hardcover – February 6, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393082652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393082654
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Houston’s latest novel finds Pam, the intrepid narrator, shuttling the world over, from Alaska to Tunisia, from Bhutan to Newfoundland, searching for authenticity, drinking up life, and maybe, just maybe, fleeing from a little conflict. As Pam first wrestles with a stagnant relationship, then enters a more promising (but arguably not easier) one, she philosophizes with girlfriends, mystics, and old lovers on all of life’s usual questions in a refreshingly witty and bold manner. The novel’s nonlinear plot builds meaning associatively through 144 minisections, each set in a new global location, enchanting the reader with unexplained characters and backstory. While a less-skilled writer would falter with this disjointed technique, Houston, in controlled, elegant prose, imbues each pithy chapter with unifying lyricism. As the flight attendant says after a plane experiencing fuel-system failure successfully lands, If your contents haven’t shifted, you must be carrying lead weights. Unapologetic and empowering, Houston’s book hammers home the idea that if you don’t have problems, you probably aren’t living. Or, to use her metaphor, we all have baggage, so we might as well get used to traveling with it. --Katharine Fronk

Review

“Starred review. Unapologetic and empowering, Houston’s book hammers home the idea that if you don’t have problems, you probably aren’t living. Or, to use her metaphor, we all have baggage, so we might as well get used to traveling with it.” (Katharine Fronk - Booklist)

“...[Houston] has...concocted a tale so vivid, intricate, and intimate that it puts high-def TV to shame...” (Natasha Clark - Elle Magazine)

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Customer Reviews

The writing is exquisite -Houston's descriptive powers are overwhelming.
Nora
It feels like Cowboys in a way, something that is going to get people talking about life, love, friendship and truth in interesting ways.
Reads, Writes, Runs
Overall, when I was in the middle of this book, I was really wishing I was at the end.
lucib

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Reads, Writes, Runs on February 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Pam Houston is a master of both form and content - not an easy feat to say the least. Often the writers who push form sacrifice (many times knowingly) emotion. The journey Houston takes us on - from Madison, WI to Ksar Ouled Soultane, Tunisia and everywhere in between - add up at the end in a satisfying take on what its like to admit your worst fears and insecurities aloud (to yourself and to your friends), invite them on every journey (they're coming with you anyway) and ultimately make them your best traveling companion.

The narrative shifts back, forth and sideways, both in location and time, which felt both fresh and familiar to me and at the end I understood why. Isn't this how we actually live our lives?

I've been a fan since Cowboys and this new book did not disappoint. It feels like Cowboys in a way, something that is going to get people talking about life, love, friendship and truth in interesting ways.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Cara on February 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I eagerly waited for this book to hit the bookshelves, or better yet, my Kindle. I almost wished I would have purchased the actual book, however, because whomever has had the misfortune (or good fortune) to have been near me while reading it, was forced to listen to wherever I happened to be in the book and I wanted to force the book on them, make then take it home and read it, too. Pam Houston is a master at pulling you in and then dragging you all over the planet. Literally. You never know where you are going to end up next and that is the beauty of the book. If you want a book that offers a basic plot and then ties it all up with a neat little bow at the end, then grab a Harlequin (not that there's anything wrong with that). If you want to laugh out loud, feel scared, anxious, excited, sad, elated...whatever...read this book. It runs through the entire gamut of emotions. It will pull you in and you will be disappointed when it ends because even though Pam is finished with us for now, you'll wish she wasn't and you'll be left clamoring for more. If that happens, just read it again!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on April 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston invites the reader into her intimate circle of friends and takes us along on a wild ride to Ireland, Canada, Bhutan, Argentina, many US destinations, home bases of California and Colorado and more. We learn about her (often) difficult relationships with men and the constant support from her (often) wise friends.

This is a book about relationships and support, love and spiritual growth and especially travel. I found Houston's remarks about difficult situations and ever entertaining travel guides (entertaining, whether they mean to be or not) shifting between hilarious and enlightening. I often observed that what she voiced or thought was close to what my own reaction would have been.

Some readers might be disconcerted by Houston's jumps from California to Bhutan to Alaska and back again. But once I found the rhythm, I decided that this is what life is really like. We don't finish every story we tell or live all at once.

Pam Houston has written a marvelous book, both poignant and funny.

by Judith Helburn
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By lucib on September 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have read and own all books written by Pam Houston and couldn't wait to buy and read this one. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a huge disappointment, at least, for me.

Before the purchase I read the book's reviews here on Amazon and first had a very negative reaction towards the negative review written by wrywreviewer. 'No one was going to talk bad about Pam Houston.' Even though, I do not agree with the review 100%, I was astonished that somewhere in the middle of the book I started realizing that the reviewer was partially right.

Unlike many reviewers, I did not mind what they called "dis-joined" material. Although, the writing is stream-of-consciousness-like, it is not difficult to follow and makes sense. The author's use of paragraphs, to distinguish the current situation or setting from a past situation, action, feeling or opinion that the author thinks about at the current moment, is clear for the most part... As far as the form, this book is interesting to me. It is the content and writing style I do not care for.

I don't know how some reviewers found it to be adventurous, emotional and funny. Just because the narrator travels around the globe it doesn't make for an adventure. To me, this was a mere rambling on about places, situations, relationships without any deeper emotion. There was just a handful of chapters that I thought were well written. A few of them were sort of funny, a few of them seemed like banal story, on the surface, but actually contained some very interesting moment, situation and therefore evoked some kind of an emotion in me. The rest, I went through without them leaving any impact on me. If someone just handed this book to me without a cover, I would have never guessed this is a book by Houston.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Wry Wreviewer on July 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is terribly, terribly disappointing. It's one part narcissism, one part self-conscious New Ageism, and one part vulgar travelogue. It shifts relentlessly in geography while Houston's narrator either attempts to lose herself or collects material for her next cocktail party conversation. It is astonishing that while the location of each of her chapters keeps changing, neither the narrator nor anyone else, it seems, grows or changes or has anything emotionally real happen to them. There is zero risk, zero ... narrative. This makes for a poor novel.

The writing is choppier than ever, which seems to be less a literary device than the author simply having exhausted the store of anxious, self-conscious disappearance-to-where-the-sun-doesn't-shine that she treated more interestingly in "Cowboys Are My Weakness". All of her narrator's surrounding characters seem to exist as mere sources of one-liners, but we don't get to know them except as the deliverers of pithy zingers. There is something deeply tedious about reporting the terrible thing said to her during her last bad relationship, which reads as distressingly similar to all her other bad relationships. It puts the reader in the position of saying "eww", not so much because someone said something pithily mean to the narrator but because Houston dwells on them so proudly. It's the literary equivalent of cutting, and shyly/proudly showing you the blood. Does she want us to like it?

The writing is also somewhat sloppy, as is the editing. "Parce", "vise versa", the same phrasing when name-dropping Himalayan peaks, as though she grew up in their shadow, within a few paragraphs. Indeed, the entire structural conceit is flawed; she starts out talking about a place and then shifts to several others within a chapterlet.
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