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Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel by Pam…

Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel

by Pam Houston

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I've enjoyed Pam Houston's other books but this one left me distant and disappointed. The writing style is intentionally disjointed — told through distilled travel vignettes — and while I applaud her taking the risk to tell a story in a new way, I just needed a more consistent thread to keep me interested. ( )
  dcmr | Jul 4, 2017 |
A novel told in 144 vignettes, by an extremely talented writer. Each "chapter" starts with an airline flight and the protagonists wanderlust takes her from Alaska to Laos to California to Mexico to Thailand.

Captured in these moments is the story of a woman who longs to see the world, breaks up with a man she should have never loved in the first place, and builds strong friendships with people around her.

The language is beautiful and so carefully crafted -- it's an excellent read! ( )
  ErikaWasTaken | Sep 22, 2013 |
Have not been able to get through the 1st chapter...This was a book that caught me with the title, but did not deliver. ( )
  Kikoa | Sep 30, 2012 |
This my 2nd book by Pam Houston. I am impressed by her narrative and prose skill but she is like a good piece of chocolate. It is good but I can only handle so many pieces. As someone who has traveled I enjoyed her world tour and I feel blessed to have been at so many of the places that she mentioned. However, she seemed to touch every cliche possible. I never truly understood her except through her narrative or someone saying something about her. She might have been a more compelling character if there was more focus on her relationship with the characters she introduced. However, there were so many that you could never get a handle on anything except that everyone loved her and thought she was great. I did sense a little JIm Harrison in her style, especially when she would digress and drift within one her 132 short pieces. Her style was okay for a 100 pages but there was no movement for the next 200 pages and 300 pages of Pam Houston telling us about the millions of people she knows and places she visited was a bit much. Considering I usually go into reading a book with a good expectation that I would like it, giving her a 2.5 is a very low rating. And that was only because she did create a good travel book and presented it in an entertaining way, sort of like the Discover channel. ( )
  nivramkoorb | Jul 3, 2012 |
“Contents May Have Shifted” has the feel of wide open spaces, of horses, the west, Alaska, of exotic places like Tibet and Tunisia, all written by a lover of travel seeking adventure. On the surface she is also seeking higher meaning and a good man, recovering from her husband’s death a decade ago and her subsequent boyfriend’s blatant infidelity.

I don’t think this is a “spoiler”, but late in the book we find that she is actually trying to find and sketch out 144 reasons to go on living. Aside from the trials of relationships, there are very subtle glimpses into childhood with an abusive alcoholic of a father who left her with lifelong physical and psychological pain. It sounds a little dark but really isn’t, and there is plenty of humor to Houston’s writing throughout.

The book has a lot going for it but it was a near miss for me. There are glimpses of genius here, but the snapshots are so rapidly presented in short, disjoint chapters which slip around in time and space that they take patience to piece together. The novel is also weakened by the everyday somewhat boring events, and by the new age elements – visits to spas, healers, psychics, etc.

The ending of the novel is quite good, as an affirmation of both life and travel. Somewhat more subtly, I noticed the number of chapters ended up being 132, which I took as 144 minus 12 … in turn meaning that her journey is incomplete, that there are more travels ahead, and that she has convinced herself to live.

On art; I’ve seen it and couldn’t agree more:
“At the Cave of Peche Merle, near Cahors, the twenty-six-thousand-year-old drawings of the spotted horse and the bear and especially the wooly mammoth on the wall looked like the work of a fine art grad teacher – a pretty good one at that. But it was the female handprint with little ochre spots around them that brought tears to my eyes.”

On death:
“If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears. I have spent my life trying to understand the way this rock and this ache go together, why a granite peak is more dramatic half dressed in clouds (like a woman), why sunlight under fog is better than the sum of its parts, why my best days and my worst days are always the same days, why (often) leaving seems like the only solution to the predicament of loving (each other) the world.”

On life, the beauty of life, and our connection to the past. Probably the strongest passage in the book:
“We are in line waiting to get into the harem, miles of tiled, low-lit corridors and rooms so thick with ghosts of women in captivity you can feel their hair on your arm, their jasmine-scented breath on your face.
In contemporary Istanbul, the dervishes have finally invited the women to whirl.
In the Blue Mosque there are two hundred and fifty thousand tiles the color of sky. When the sun comes out, inside is sky and outside is golden. I am forty-six years old and ashamed of the fact that this is the first mosque of my life, but later, when the evening call to prayer catches me in the garden between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, call and echo, echo and answer, bouncing off domes and turrets that have stood on this hill for fifteen hundred years; I know faith springs out of doubt like topsoil, and one thing I am is here right now.
Across the Golden Horn where the Bosporous meets the Sea of Marmara, the Asian part of the city glistens in the twilight. As a candidate for the center of everything, Istanbul beats Pueblo, Colorado, hands down. The gulls are turning cartwheels around the towers of the Blue Mosque and cawing like crazy women. Byzantium,, I say to them, Constantinople.
The circle of my now is wreaking havoc with the lines of my doing. I am learning to say yes, if not always immediately. A sweet-faced Turkish boy, maybe nineteen, offers me a Kleenex, puts both hands over his heart when I take it, says I look just like his mother when I cry.”

On love in middle age:
“’Love gets bigger after forty,’ Fenton tells me. ‘After forty, love says, Come one, come all.’”

On men:
“We are exactly thirty minutes into an hour-long lunch date. Then he says, ‘I must tell you, I am attracted to athletic bodies, not necessarily skinny, but toned.’ I look at his thinning hair, his stringy ponytail, watch him eat a date wrapped in bacon, watch a drip of grease run down his chin. I want to say, I’ll bet that twelve-year-old you sleep with is very athletic. I want to say, I can get toned if I want to but you’ll still be short.

A camel trot is not the world’s smoothest gait, and the saddle is not meant for two. First I realize that what I am feeling banging up against my ass is Sasan’s little erection, then I realize that his holding on to me right at tit level is no accident. I think, How old and ugly must one get before this shit stops happening, grit my teeth, and focus on not falling off.”

On suicide:
“I’m beginning to understand that when we want to kill ourselves, it is not because we are lonely, but because we are trying to break up with the world before the world breaks up with us.”

“Instantly I feel that old surge come back, that seizing of my own life on my own terms. It is such a physical thing, like the time I had my forearm shattered and the nurse came in every four hours on the dot to give me a shot of morphine – that’s how physical – and I look down at the glacier and the ice-ridged peaks that go on forever behind it and say, Remember this remember this remember this the next time you think it’s over, because some man, or some hope, or some life takes away instead of gives. Remember this and get on an airplane, a small one if possible, because it always works.”

“When someone jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge, the official name for it is a 10-31. When someone throws himself in front of a BART train, they call it a trespasser incident, as in lead us not into temptation. Of the roughly thirteen hundred people who have tried to commit suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, twenty-six have lived. Most of those twenty-six have been willing to talk about it afterwards and they all have said some version of the same thing: As soon as my hands left the railing, I wanted more than anything to change my mind.
Houston also refers to YouTube video excerpts of a documentary showing people jumping, which sadly does exist.

“The first title for this book was Suicide Note, or 144 Good Reasons Not to Kill Yourself, but I changed it, because the contradiction felt dishonest, and also because I realized if I ever did kill myself it would simply be a preemptive strike to keep my father from getting to do it first, which, turns out, is something I’ve been worrying about forever, or at least since I was four.”

On transience, this after a Tibetan ‘sky burial’, in which vultures rip apart and carry off portions of the corpse:
“When I see a sky burial, all desire to have money and get more things goes away, because you see a man, then you see him dead in a ball, then you see him cut to pieces, and in twenty minutes he is nothing, it is like he never existed.”

I love this image:
“In the late afternoon, a young monk in a silken saffron robe crosses a courtyard paved with ancient cobblestones, steps into a ray of sunlight and ignites, as if for a moment he has the sun inside him, as if he is the light of the world.”

And I love these facts:
“Today on Limatour I am watching for spouts, thinking about how the size of a blue whale’s tongue is the same size as the largest current land animal, the African elephant; how a blue whale’s heart weighs a thousand pounds and is the size of a Volkswagen; how you could put a small child down its blowhole, if you wanted to; how one scientist bet another that he could walk through a dead blue whale’s aorta, and then he did.”

Lastly, this one, on the great state of Wisconsin:
“Everything I know about Wisconsin can fit in one paragraph. It is the home of the Butter Burger. It is the state where, on the day his father died, Brett Favre had the game of his life.” ( )
1 vote gbill | May 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393082652, Hardcover)

Heart-stopping prose and crackling observations on a spiritual journey toward a life rich in love and freedom.

Stuck in a dead-end relationship, this fearless narrator leaves her metaphorical baggage behind and finds a comfort zone in the air, “feeling safest with one plane ticket in her hand and another in her underwear drawer.” She flies around the world, finding reasons to love life in dozens of far-flung places from Alaska to Bhutan. Along the way she weathers unplanned losses of altitude, air pressure, and landing gear. With the help of a squad of loyal, funny, wise friends and massage therapists, she learns to sort truth from self-deception, self-involvement from self-possession.

At last, having found a new partner “who loves Don DeLillo and the NHL” and a daughter “who needs you to teach her to dive and to laugh at herself”—not to mention two dogs and two horses—“staying home becomes more of an option. Maybe.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:42 -0400)

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A woman seeking a reprieve from a going-nowhere relationship finds solace in flying to exotic places around the world from Alaska to Bhutan.

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