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Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel Hardcover – February 6, 2012
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*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
“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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Contents May Have Shifted follows Pam all over the world, from ranches and spas, to monasteries, religious shrines, hotels, and landmarks, in locations as diverse as the American Southwest, Alaska, Bhutan, Tibet, Laos, Spain, Scotland, Newfoundland, and Australia. Sometimes she travels with friends, sometimes colleagues, sometimes lovers (or ex-lovers), and sometimes she is trying to escape it all. And she has no shortage of flying-related complications, whether on a jet plane or a small turbo prop! Pam's (and Pam Houston's) tremendous appreciation for wherever she is and whomever she is with, no matter the circumstances, is both heartwarming and, at times, heartbreaking, but moving all the same.
While this book hooked me from start to finish, especially since the sphere of my personal travel experiences is so narrow, I give you one warning: this book is not told in a linear way, so as it jumps from place to place, it jumps from time to time. Sometimes she's with one partner, sometimes another, and sometimes she's simply dealing with friends and their issues. I think it's a true testament to Houston's skills as a writer that she's able to present such a full story through short snippets told out of temporal order. If you can suspend your need for order and just give in to this book about the joy of travel and relationships, you will love it as much as I did. And if you want more Pam Houston, I highly recommend her short story collections Cowboys are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat.
Would not recommend it.