Book Review - Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Publisher: W W Norton & Co
Publication Date: 6 February 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction/Short Stories
My Copy: Library - hardback

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.”


I picked up this book because it was on a list of "Must Reads by Women," and I didn't really know much about it. It started out so great, but then I lost interest pretty quickly. I don't read very many short stories mostly because I like my stories to be longer with a defined and well sculpted plot. Which is probably why this book and I didn't get along. The book is divided up into 144 little stories about events or places the main character visited or regularly frequented (a possible title choice being "144 Reasons Not to Commit Suicide). I had a hard time connecting to it because of the way it jumped all around in time and place. Not my thing. I skimmed through most of the second half because I did enjoy a couple of the short pieces, but not enough to hold my interest. I do have some quotes to share from early in the book.


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. - pg 14

He tells me we've been put on earth to crack each other open, and then to stick around long enough to watch the thing that, having been cracked open, suddenly shines. He says he knows there is only a thin wall between himself and all that shining, but sometimes he forgets how thin the wall is, because somebody came along when he wasn't looking, and painted the damn thing black. - pg 15

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. - pg 21

At our first therapy session in over a year Patrick said, "Pam! Don't you get it? If Ethan spends every minute he's eating your mango, longing for the old mango, he doesn't have any brain space to worry about losing the mango he's got right now." - pg 47

Janine said, "The best way to think of Ethan's energy is like mistletoe. We have all these nice kissy associations with mistletoe, and even out in nature it doesn't look that bad, but give it enough time and it will kill the tree." - pg 61

Rating Breakdown:
Plot: 1 star
Pacing: 1 star
Characters: 3 stars


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