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Waltzing the Cat Paperback – September 1, 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671026372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671026370
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,529,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Pam Houston writes in that imperfect way that achieves near perfection. You know an author is getting to you when the words make you stop and read them again, tasting and feeling them to make sure they are real.
Her passage explaining why she stays with a jealous, abusive man rang almost too close to home....after giving her litany of painful reasons, she explains that you should understand where she is coming from... "unless you are lucky, and then you will not." Reading Pam makes me feel as though an old friend is sitting in my bedroom talking to ME, and I realized reading this passage, that I did, unfortunately, understand. Thanks for writing from the heart, and I can't wait to read more!
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By A Customer on October 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Like many other reviewers, "Cowboys" is one of my most tattered collections on my bookshelf. I have giving "Cowboys" as presents many times, and recommended it countless others.
I was eager to see how Houston had grown in the few years since "Cowboys" was published, and was disappointed to find she hadn't. "Waltzing the Cat" reads like a volume of B-side tunes. They all work, but none of them had the sparkle, wit or insight that I saw in "Cowboys."
It's possible that I expected too much from Houston-- after all, don't they say the second book always falls short of expectations? Quite possibly she needs to write less from her life and more from her heart.
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Format: Hardcover
The writer of Cowboys Are My Weakness has advanced and improved upon her original success, pushing her new stories with daring prose and complex plots, revealing a new artistic confidence and an even more refined knack for smart dialogue and self-reflection. There are few contemporary artists who can depict with more insight and sensitivity a woman's perspective on landscape (whether it be the Bay Area, the Amazon or a small Colorado mining town), relationships (with both men and women), and identity.
Houston explores some familiar and new terrain in Waltzing the Cat. There is, for certain, what you might expect: outdoor adventures of a strong woman in the American West, smart and revealing depictions of her relationships with various men. But she also explores some exciting new terrain, both physical--most significantly, a place in the world to call home--and psychological, in the form of deft and brave visits to a darker past, the story that lurks behind all other stories.
The opening chapter, "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had," as well as "Three Lessons in Amazonian Biology" and the title story, are among the best I've read in years, and Houston interconnects them all in fascinating ways, creating less a book of short stories than a novel in stories, a novel which culminates in a lovely and disturbing epilogue that provides not only an emotional coda to the book but the formula for its decoding. I was impressed and delighted with Waltzing the Cat, aware as I read that I was in the hands of a gifted and innovative writer.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Houston's stories are really primo stuff--extreme characters, a journey through various levels of destructive and loving relationships--but so little attention is given to short story collections. More engaging and forgiving than any novel. Though we do follow one narrator throughout, these stories work well in their own right.
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Format: Hardcover
I had a hard time mustering up any sympathy for Lucy, the protagonist of this book. She seemed self-indulgent and egotistical. I got the feeling that this book falls into the new category called "creative non-fiction." Nothing wrong with that, but I just didn't like her. I felt as if I was in a bar with a really insecure, drunk person who was telling exaggerated versions of her adventures, and not listening to anybody else. Pick up "Cowboys" for some strong, well-crafted stories and heroines you can care about. Skip this weak sophomore.
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Format: Paperback
Pam Houston once again has spun a web of collected stories encircling the life of of our heroine; this time, it's Lucy, photographer, hunter of the perfect emotionally available man, realistic woman-with-issues that we can all identify with. Filled with rich metaphors and descriptive detail, this collection of related stories is fun to read and leaves the reader emotionally satisfied when he or she comes full circle by the end of the book. I highly recommend this book as great summer reading! Enjoy.
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By A Customer on March 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Why do we need one more collection of stories narrated by a "heroine" from a dysfunctional background with so little self-esteem that she allows herself to be abused or treated badly by virtually every person in her life while simultaneously droning about her terror of growing old alone? Lucy's sense of worthlessness is appalling. Enough already.
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Format: Paperback
I expected to like this book -- I liked Cowboys are My Weakness, for all its flaws -- but this is too much self-contemplation and too little real substance. Can this author not look outside herself?
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