Contents May Have Shifted

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Overview

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 ...

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Contents May Have Shifted

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Overview

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.”

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Starred review. Unapologetic and empowering, Houston’s book hammers home the idea that if you don’t have problems, you probably aren’t living. Or, to use her metaphor, we all have baggage, so we might as well get used to traveling with it.”— Katharine Fronk
Elle Magazine
“...[Houston] has...concocted a tale so vivid, intricate, and intimate that it puts high-def TV to shame...”— Natasha Clark
Katharine Fronk - Booklist
“Starred review. Unapologetic and empowering, Houston’s book hammers home the idea that if you don’t have problems, you probably aren’t living. Or, to use her metaphor, we all have baggage, so we might as well get used to traveling with it.”
Natasha Clark - Elle Magazine
“...[Houston] has...concocted a tale so vivid, intricate, and intimate that it puts high-def TV to shame...”
Library Journal
From 747s overloaded with fuel to small cargo planes on which she has to blend in with the duffel bags to avoid detection, frequent flier-narrator Pam crisscrosses the globe, sharing her experiences and impressions. Sometimes she travels with a man, at others with a woman friend or a gaggle of female companions. Eventually, she tries for a more settled life with a man and his daughter. She has experiences big and small: helping young ducks cross a road, being shouted at in a language she doesn't understand while plane after plane departs the airport, comforting her wolfhound, who's suffering from cancer. She gets a variety of New Age and foreign massages. It's a simple story, really, of a woman trying to find happiness. It's told through a series of short chapters (sometimes just a few sentences) as the account floats back and forth in time and space. But there is a compelling narrative here for readers willing to find it, and they will learn a lot about a modern woman and her hopes and fears. VERDICT From the author of the critically acclaimed Cowboys Are My Weakness, this book is not for everyone but is highly recommended for adventurous readers.—Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Houston's second novel (Sight Hound, 2005, etc.) combines thinly disguised travel essays with a new age romance as her heroine travels the world with one lover, then more or less settles down for another. Narrator Pam is a California professor with a very flexible schedule, seemingly unlimited financial resources and an itch for roaming. Over 100 brief chapters follow her to various exotic locations, from Alaska to Bhutan to Patagonia to Tunisia, to name just a few--after a while the places begin to run together--where she gets to know the locals, enjoys the local food and usually has a lively adventure or inner awakening. Sometimes fearless, sometimes scared to death, the narrator (whose identity reads close to the author's) doesn't take herself too seriously during these quests, which often include near-death experiences, and she skillfully captures the essence of each place she visits. The descriptions of her plane rides, and aviation near-disasters, are often hilarious. But less humorous are the relationship issues Pam is working out as she approaches 50. She brags annoyingly about her many, many friends, including semi-famous literary ones, although none develop into actual characters--another case of names running together. But Pam's romantic history is problematic. Her past includes a dead lover she idealizes. Her present, as the book opens, includes Ethan, a womanizing jerk whom women find incredibly desirable despite his lack of a discernable personality. After their drawn out breakup, she goes on a series of snidely described bad dates before she meets Rick, a "highbrow hick" with a Masters in philosophy and religion who makes custom wood flooring for a living. To Pam, he is the perfect mix of redneck and new age cowboy. The hitch is his 8-year-old daughter and his complicated connection to his ex-wife. Can Pam balance her need to explore the world with her desire for intimacy with homebound Rick? Houston is a fine travel writer, but her characters are cardboard cutouts for every cliché of contemporary uplifting women's fiction.
The Barnes & Noble Review

As any reader of the stories in her early-'90s collection, Cowboys Are My Weakness, could tell you, Pam Houston was an early master of the art of rendering fiercely independent, brilliant women in love with the wrong men. Her protagonists share a lack of self-pity, a driving passion for adventure, and a love of dogs. It would never occur to any of them to ask for help.

That characterization holds true for Pam, the narrator of Houston's Contents May Have Shifted, which has 144 mini-chapters, 132 of which are named for their settings (Alaska, Turkey, and Texas, among others). The twelve remaining scenes take place on airplanes. Leading a comfortable and nomadic life, Pam (like Houston) teaches writing in Davis, California, owns a Colorado ranch, and answers only to herself and her dogs. After decades of cramming herself into undersized relationships, Pam has embraced freedom with her "arms swung open wide." Then she meets Rick, "a man who loves Don DeLillo and the NHL." Even with his complications, including a young daughter and a narcissistic ex-wife, Rick offers compelling reasons for Pam to tether her life to his, and to find at home what she'd been looking for all over the world.

Fractured into so many vignettes, the narrative can feel distractingly nonlinear, but on its own each tiny chapter shines. Houston's talent for needling out moments within moments, like nesting Russian dolls, testifies to the truth of Annie Dillard's proverbial notion: how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Of real interest are details: flashes and exchanges with which Houston constructs a mosaic. The result is quietly funny, poetic, and authentic — a thoroughly rewarding trip.

Sarah Norris, arts editor of The Villager, has reviewed books for The New Yorker, Village Voice, Time Out New York, and other publications.

Reviewer: Sarah Norris

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393082654
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/6/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,029,236
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Pam Houston divides her time between her ranch in Colorado and the University of California at Davis, where she is director of the Creative Writing Program. She has been a frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, and her writing appears regularly in More and other publications. She in the author of the best-selling Cowboys Are My Weakness.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 28, 2012

    Moving, funny, poignant.

    Other reviewers have disliked the disjointed feel of this book. That's what I'm drawn to -- that and the fact that it offers insight upon insight into our daily lives. Not all books should be based on the alignment of their joints but on the beauty and cumulative effect of their moments.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2012

    I'd call it free-association rather than disjointed. It's what

    I'd call it free-association rather than disjointed. It's what we all do when mulling over our lives. Except most of us are stuck in one place, rather than zipping off to wierd and wonderful locales. If you stick with it, you find that everything pretty well fits together, eventually. But the author doesn't demand that you see the fit or make the connection. A rather free-spirited tale about some heavy duty self-reflections.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2012

    Shifted, but where to????

    This is one of the most disjointed books i've read in a long time...The author's traumatic and often violent childhood produced a life long search for validation; her wanderings throughout the world, her attempts at self awareness and her inability to have any meaningful relationships with men lead the reader on a journey that is trite and unending, with virtually no resolution whatsoever....

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 21, 2013

    Seriously wonderful book. Extraordinary, beyond words. READ IT.

    Seriously wonderful book. Extraordinary, beyond words. READ IT.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 19, 2012

    I am not done reading this book yet, however, I did have to stop

    I am not done reading this book yet, however, I did have to stop because of how incredibly disjointed it is. I generally do not shy away from books such as this, in fact I like books written in unusual style...however, this book is just something I could not deal with and I am incredibly sorry that I wasted SO MUCH money on a book. I thought I was taking a leap of faith by pre-ordering it before it came out because it sounded like something right up my alley...nope. I'm going to TRY to power through and finish it and update my review, but honestly, I'd rather re-read books that I've already read so I can have something GOOD to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2012

    Worst Book Ever

    Save your money. This book is so disjointed. It just rambles on and on. Like someone wirh an untrained mind. It leaps from thought to thought from place to place. It's hard to follow. I though it would be a lighthearted travel book. It's not.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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