Waltzing the Cat

Wilderness photographer and former river rafting instructor Lucy is the thread that holds together Waltzing the Cat, this series of stories about a thirtyish woman searching for herself and for love. Pam Houston excels at depicting, from sweet beginning to tortuous end, Lucy’s relationships with flawed men, including the crazily jealous and violent Gordon; Tony, who lovingly summons her back from an Amazon trip only to introduce her to his new girlfriend; handsome Carter, who zooms in and out of her life but never gets too close; strong and powerful Erik, who fixes up her cabin but is ultimately broken by alcohol; and perfect, romantic Marcus who is still dealing with the aftermath of a failed marriage. Houston explains Lucy’s inability to pick the right man in the first lesson in “Three Lessons in Amazonian Biology.” Lucy’s Amazon guide tells her that monarch butterflies make blue jays throw up and that over the years, other butterflies have learned to color themselves like a monarch when blue jays are near. If a blue jay’s first experience is with an imposter, it never learns which are the safe butterflies and which will make it ill—and thus it is with Lucy.

In Waltzing the Cat, as in her previous work, Cowboys Are My Weakness (1992), Houston deftly sketches the thoughts and feelings of an active, adventurous woman with humor and grace, creating situations and writing lines with which any woman who has ever loved the wrong man can identify.