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Waltzing the Cat [Paperback]

Pam Houston
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 1999
Relationships and extreme adventures collide with deadpan humor and female wisdom in Pam Houston's transcendent follow-up to her bestselling Cowboys Are My Weakness. Through eleven interlinked stories, we follow roving photographer Lucy O'Rourke as she survives a home life where her parents engage in rather peculiar feeding rites for the family cat in a "title story that deserves to be anthologized into eternity" (The Washington Post Book World), a near-drowning on a white water rafting trip, and a grand cayman attack in the Amazon. All the while her search for love continues with a string of rugged, exciting, and usually, it seems, inappropriate men. While it's not always easy for Lucy to find success in either the great outdoors or love, she rolls with the punches, never losing her sassy wit. When a surprise encounter with Carlos Castaneda at an airport boarding gate sets off a series of synchronistic events that lead Lucy to Hope, Colorado, and the life she has been searching for, we know that "Houston's triumph is that she has come to know the quieter adventures of the heart" (Arizona Republic).

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From Amazon

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
A PERFECT DAY IN THE CITY always starts like this: my friend Leo picks me up and we go to a breakfast place called Rick and Ann's where they make red flannel hash out of beets and bacon, and then we cross the Bay Bridge to the gardens of the Palace of the Fine Arts to sit in the wet grass and read poems out loud and talk about love. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Stories about love, family, and the West Jan. 5 2001
I recently received this book as a Secret Santa gift, and began reading it that same day, instantly taken in by Houston's casual, straightforward style. While I wouldn't place it in my list of favorite books, it did inspire me to purchase "Cowboys are My Weakness", which I am reading right now and intend to review as soon as I finish.
"Waltzing the Cat" is a collection of stories that all revolve around Lucy, who appears to be based heavily on the author herself. In approximately chronological order, the stories describe Lucy's relationship with her family as well as her various attempts at romance with men who are almost right- with emphasis on the "almost". Suddenly, Lucy finds herself the owner of a Colorado ranch left behind by the late grandmother she barely knew. She begins a new life in the Rockies, all the while halfway considering selling the place and moving back to the city. The relationship problems with unsuitable men never seem to disappear, but Lucy seems to find a part of herself at the ranch that was missing before- something approaching happiness and comfort.
I did have some problems with this book, problems which became apparent after the first few stories. I was a little confused with the time span that was passing, and the sequence of events within that span. Some stories seem to take place "now", others are obviously flashbacks, but it isn't always clear which is which. Lucy is often friends with one man while she's "seeing" another, and it's not always clear who she's dating, and when.
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I think that a lot of reviewers missed the boat on thisbook. So many focused more on Lucy's knack for entering into lousyrelationships than on the real meaning of the stories in this collection: that after years of making bad choices, she is finally coming into her own and accepting herself as a single woman. Believe me, in a society where you are considered a freak if you're a single woman over age 30, that's no mean feat and Houston really understands this. Yes, Lucy feels sorry for herself. Yes, she dates jerks again and again. Well, guess what? So do we all at some point, but one has to go through this in order to learn all the necessary lessons and eventually find the right person. I think the character of Lucy is a very realistic portrayal of a person searching for love, finding what she thinks is love, and being disappointed. I love the advice that Lucy's friend Ellie gives her about men (paraphrased): "Find a place where the ground feels like goodness under your feet, snap the right picture, and a man will walk into it." The best part about this is that at the end of the book, Lucy realizes that SHE can be the one walking into the picture. Having been through similar experiences myself in my thirties, this was a very uplifting and satisfying conclusion. I recommend this book to anyone, but understand that if you've never been in Lucy's shoes it may not resonate for you as it did for me and for the other reviewers who've been there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another book about me.... Oct. 11 1999
By A Customer
Greta:When I first read Cowboys Are My Weakness...I felt someone had taken my life, my experiences and my thoughts and put them on paper as their own. Waltzing the Cat gave me the same deja vu...I'm very happy when readers who don't share the same life experiences as Pam Houston, relate to her works, but for those of us women who have lived in remote areas of the world, dated the conquerors of mountains and rivers, as well as environmental zealots, and found ourselves continuously attracted to the kind of man that can only be with himself (i.e. Will Gatlin in Edward Abbey's Black Sun), she gives us comfort in our familiarity of the pain she has endured.
My best girlfriends kayak wild rivers, ski the steepest chutes, ascend the world's highest peaks and choose a lifestyle that reinforces their strength and independence. Houston is our written representation that while we are incredible women in a male-dominated region (region defined many ways)...we still become giggling girls on the sidewalk when the resident adventure god of the moment walks by, winks at us, get's into his pickup with his lab named Teton...and goes home to his Yurt in the hills (but not with one of us...wah!)
Thank you Pam for being our voice....now one of my girlfriends is heading off to cook for a hunting camp, for the next month...but she somtimes she would rather have a date.
Men in CO,ID,WY,AK,MT...where the odds are good, but the goods are odd.
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Once again Houston demonstrates an ego matched only by her limited imagination. First and foremost these "stories" belong in non-fiction or autobiography, not fiction. Throughout there is the sense that Houston cannot create a world other than the one she knows, and worse, that she assumes this world is one her reader will automatically recognize and accept. Time and again complex feelings and layered situations are summarized with one-liners more appropriate to soap opera than literature. Finally the reader simply grows tired of being lectured to and spoon-fed Houston's "wisdon" about life, love and everything. And finally the material and style seems simply a re-working of Cowboys Are My Weakness, as though the author feels a winning combination was struck in that first collection and must not be strayed from. This collection makes abundantly clear that Houston has not grown as a writer and has no interest in taking on more difficult and varied material.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful stories by a wonderful writer
Pam Houston's "Walzing the Cat" is one of the best books I've read recently, interconnecting stories full of lyrical writing, jolt-you-to-attention insights, and luminous images. Read more
Published on July 2 2002 by Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock
4.0 out of 5 stars Woven Stories
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... Read more
Published on May 29 2001 by Lori Fox-Rigney
4.0 out of 5 stars And Then You Wake Up and Have Breakfast
"Waltzing the Cat" is a good book, although it is not the best that Pam Houston has to offer. Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2001 by Molly M. Wolf
2.0 out of 5 stars Repetitive and Disjointed
I enjoyed her first book, as it seems everyone else did, but it seems that Houston forgot that the Waltzing stories are supposed to be related to eachother--that it's not just a... Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2000 by Justine Cardello
1.0 out of 5 stars Solid but disappointing.
Like many other reviewers, "Cowboys" is one of my most tattered collections on my bookshelf. Read more
Published on Oct. 4 2000 by "fleajuice"
1.0 out of 5 stars self indulgent and vain
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. Read more
Published on June 16 2000 by S. Kaiser
2.0 out of 5 stars Tales of a lost soul.
Reading this book was like spending time listening to the girls in my dorm talk about their endless, repetitive breakups, except that the narrator is middle-aged, not nineteen. Read more
Published on April 6 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, well-written, fine prose...
Pam Houston writes in a mature voice that speaks of strong self-awareness and confidence in expression. Another review I read compared her writing with Bridget Jones's Diary... Read more
Published on March 27 2000
1.0 out of 5 stars It's getting very old
Even the reviewers (such as the girls from Colorado) seem to think that there is something cute about picking creepy, non-committal men. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2000
1.0 out of 5 stars Solid but disappointing.
Like many other reviewers, "Cowboys" is one of my most tattered collections on my bookshelf. Read more
Published on Dec 22 1999
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