When Lucy O'Rourke was 2 her father threw her into the New Jersey surf. She passed the flotation test then, but nature--wild and human--has been subjecting her to variations on the theme ever since. True, the thirtyish photographer-protagonist of Waltzing the Cat
is drawn to dangerous locales, from the Ecuadorian jungle where murderous grand caymans lie at the ready to the Provincetown beaches where her latest nominee for Mr. Right seems only a hair less lethal. But as she has yet to learn, the most elemental struggles begin at home. In the heartbreaking title story, Lucy's classically disconnected WASP family channels all available affection through Suzette, their roly-poly feline (29 pounds and counting!). "The cat and I were always friends until I left home and fell in love with men who raised dogs and smelled like foreign places. Now when I come home for a visit the cat eyes me, territorial, like an only child."
Lucy's survival strategies also desert her when it comes to men. They're trouble when they don't want her, more so when they do. In addition, they're adept at giving the answer "no"--a trait they share with the males in Pam Houston's equally fine first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness. In "The Whole Weight of Me," for instance, Lucy's latest lad yet again eases himself out of things when she tells him she wants to see him soon. "'That would be great,' he said, in a voice that said clear as a bell that it wouldn't. And it was like someone had spliced together the wrong rolls of film from two different movies; it was that instantaneous how everything changed."
A less graceful, less wry writer would not be able to map Lucy's self-conscious journey of discovery with such ease and agility. Houston's adventurer is the sort of woman who runs into Carlos Castaneda after she's just missed a plane.
What everybody says now is, How do you know it was really him, like that is the pertinent question. It was him, I say, like I learned in graduate school, or another man by the same name. I mean, is it less interesting if it was just some guy who thought he was Carlos Castenada, or more?
On the other hand, she's also the type who gets recognized while checking out a display of animal-shaped dildos--"the kangaroo, the rabbit, the great brown bear, noses and ears turned inward, poised at the ready"--in the first sex shop she's dared to enter. Wherever Lucy is, her creator--often in the space of a single sentence--can quickly fill in the most crushing experience with a mix of longing and expertly timed comedy. --Kerry Fried
From Publishers Weekly
The winningly forthright narrator of Houston's second collection of interlinked stories (after Cowboys Are My Weakness) is peripatetic landscape photographer Lucy O'Rourke, 33, who persists in falling in love with a succession of men who are wrong for her and in risking grievous bodily harm in adventure sports. Lucy is tossed into raging rapids on the Colorado River in Utah, faces down a grand cayman that almost capsizes her canoe in Ecuador, nearly drowns twice in the waters off the Bahamas in hurricane season and repeatedly tests her courage in other exotic locations. Each change of scene is a search for a home and a man with whom to establish it; each time, she is disappointed anew by neurotic lovers who are afraid of commitment. The unconscious motivation of all her adventures is the little girl she once was, caught between an alcoholic mother and a mean, bullying father. The 13 vignettes from her life, repetitive as they seem initially, move Lucy along a path on which she becomes open to mystical visions: the first is a visitation from Carlos Castaneda, which leads her to settle down at the dilapidated ranch her grandmother has bequeathed to her in the Colorado Rockies. Lucy's troubles are not over at the end of this suspenseful and plaintively appealing book, and her future is not entirely clear, yet the reader finally feels that she has learned valuable lessons that may take her to safe harbor. Houston describes Lucy's sporting adventures with cinematic detail, conveying both her technical prowess and the exhilaration of physical daring. On the other hand, readers may become exasperated at the number of selfish, foolish, posturing men who wander into Lucy's path. Her slow progress toward insight and peace of mind is wrapped up in a mystical epilogue that is rather contrived, but she is such an engaging heroine that one is left wanting to read further chapters in her life. Author tour. Editor, Carol Houk Smith.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.