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Book Review

May 24, 2012
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‘Contents May Have Shifted’

Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Reviewed by Catherine Rihm

By Pam Houston

WW Norton & Co.



320 pp

In “Contents May Have Shifted,” author Pam Houston’s new work of fiction, her adventure-seeking narrator travels the world on frequent quests to distance herself from life at home and to search for happiness and love. In a thinly veiled autobiographical tale, Pam the narrator teaches in Davis, Calif., and lives on a ranch in Creede, Colo., just like Pam the author.

Houston’s novel is a collection of 144 brief chapters, the bulk of them titled after the places she visits, destinations like New Zealand, Texas, Tibet, Spain and Oregon. These mini travel essays give insight both into the areas she travels to as well as into her life. Houston elegantly conveys the essence of each place and beautifully describes her experiences there. She deftly reveals Pam’s character along the way. These small chapters are well crafted, enough to hold their own as separate stories yet work to frame the novel as a whole without being confusing. Though Houston jumps back and forth in time, the essays propel the reader forward comfortably.

As Pam fervently travels, she deals with ending a stagnant relationship with Ethan, a womanizing, freeloading narcissist. Pam turns to her trips and her loyal squad of friends, therapists and acupuncturists for support. She eventually enters into a new relationship with Rick but must contend with the complications of his ex-wife and their young daughter, Madison. Though she continues her adventures as she becomes closer to Rick and Madison, it seems Pam may see some reasons to settle down a bit as she discovers it’s possible to have at home what she travels the world to find, while still embracing the romance and wonder the world has to offer. CV

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