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by Pam Houston

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04805-5
Publisher: Norton

A collection of essays, most of which have appeared elsewhere, by novelist (Waltzing the Cat, 1998, etc.) and adventurer Houston. She writes well. She also skis, rafts, tracks, rides, and climbs well, though often, she claims, people mistake bravado for skill. The combination of her writing ability and her physical endeavors has made her an oft-published writer in a range of venues whose content usually seems, if not diametrically opposed, then at least unrelated, such as Allure magazine and the anthology Women on Hunting. This juxtaposition is what makes her current collection of autobiographical essays stand out from the endless flow of memoirs still coming down the pike. Houston’s exploration of personal trauma, such as problems with childhood, self-esteem, body image, and relationships may seem sadly familiar, but her methods of dealing—or not dealing—with them do not, whether that means risking life and limb guiding hunters in Alaska, hiking Mt. Timpanagos, or whitewater rafting in flood season. The collection is hit-and-miss— some of the essays, like “In Bhutan, There Is No Way To Be Famous,” are truly extraordinary in their descriptive power and insight, while others, such as “The Morality of Fat,” would seem more appropriate in a fashion magazine than here. The book would have benefited from some judicious editing, since there’s a redundant quality to some of these pieces. Ultimately, though, when Houston notes that “my need to write the things that terrify me is matched only by my desire to write the things that surprise and delight,” it’s clear that’s she’s satisfied both requirements. (Author tour)