Contents May Have Shifted

The quirky and unusual “travel novel” Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston takes you on a roller-coaster ride both around the world and through the author’s stormy relationships with men. Pam Houston is also the author of the hilarious Cowboys Are My Weakness, one of my all-time favorite books of the 90’s that captured the misunderstandings that happen when men and women try to communicate.

In Contents May Have Shifted, the author is not shy to admit that she is a travel junkie, and she captures the thrills of exploring cultural extremes in exotic locations including Tibet, Laos, New Zealand, Spain, and Tunisia as well as a jumble of places in the United States and Canada. The author describes some truly hair-raising experiences and tumultuous airplane flights. You may never feel cozy on a plane again after reading this book! On one flight they suffer a direct hit by lightning, and the jolly pilot announces that there is no need to worry since they need only one engine to land… as an electric-blue fireball crackles in the aisle. 

Whether she is watching vultures sampling bodies during a “sky burial” in Tibet, or fending off a lusty man on a camel trip through the desert in Tunisia, Pam’s spirit of adventure always carries her through. Pam’s confidence and courage lead her to be bold in her relationships with all kinds of men, from ranchers to sensitive-New-Age-guy-types. Her unflagging sense of wry humor buoys her along, but she also does not shrink from tearing open her own heart and showing us the contents.

When she meets Rick he comes with excess baggage: a co-dependency with his annoying ex-wife who has changed her name from Sophie to “SoFree,” and his young daughter Madison. The wonder of this book is how well Pam can reveal her own multi-faceted  emotions…jealousy, competitiveness, miscommunication, devotion…and the euphoria of the relationship when it is solid. 

As she is swept up in her discoveries about the gentle trust and joy of a child, we see her as both confident and vulnerable. In the end, her life becomes a metaphor for womanhood today: can we “have it all” and enjoy our own achievement and adventure yet also have devoted loving relationships?