Pam Houston’s favorite topic is men and a woman's relationship to them; this topic appears in most of her writing. Her female characters' romantic relationships are often skewed and, in the end, usually painful. However, in her short story “The Moon Is a Woman’s First Husband,” Lucy O’Rourke, the protagonist, is in the company of two men, and she is doing fairly well. Perhaps, the author alludes, Lucy is happy because she is not in a sexual relationship with either of the men.
Lucy is on a sailboat with two friends, Henry and Carter. The three of them are on their way to the Bahamas, via Miami. There is a threat of a hurricane, but they have calculated that they will miss it. It seems their calculations are off because they sail right into it. For much of the adventure, Lucy is at the helm doing a great job of keeping the boat from capsizing. Most of Houston’s female protagonists are hardy heroines when it comes to facing the challenges Mother Nature throws in their way. Her protagonists' greatest challenges are inevitably with the opposite sex.
In this story, both Henry and Carter are involved with other women (women who do not like to sail). Henry owns the boat and loves having Lucy come with him because she does not whine or vomit. As the hurricane-force winds pick up and the thirty-foot waves break over the bow, Lucy does become sick but she does lose her courage.
The threesome heads for Bimini, and the harbor on this outlying island is notorious for sinking boats even in good weather. All the guidebooks state that night landings should never be attempted. But they arrive in the middle of the night, with the hurricane all around them, and they make it.
Most of Houston’s stories involve a touch of sexual tension. Henry is irritated by Carter’s beauty and lack of self-consciousness around Lucy. Carter is attracted to Lucy despite the fact that he is considering asking his long-time girlfriend to marry him.
Lucy, though, appears quite content with herself. As they cross the Gulf Stream, she recounts Greek myths, those connected with the constellations she points out before the hurricane blocks out the evening sky. Once on the island, Lucy amuses herself with a swim in the turbulent aftermath of the storm. She gets caught in a riptide but saves herself without the help of a man.
Critics were impressed with Houston’s collection Waltzing the Cat, in which this short story appeared. Susan Salter Reynolds, writing for the Los Angeles Times, commented that Houston uses “authority and humor that can save a drowning reader.”