Download For Bo Study Guide

Subscribe Now


In Pam Houston's short story "For Bo," the narrator is married. Her husband is a musician named Sam, and he likes to sing to the couple's two dogs when he comes home. The narrator's mother, however, does not like either Sam or the dogs. They are all too dirty for her. And besides, Sam has tattoos. The narrator, as the story opens, is waiting for her mother's arrival. She is coming to visit for a few hours during a layover from her flight from New Jersey to California. The narrator lives in Denver.

The narrator's mother is overbearing and critical. She tucks in her daughter's blouse, tries to comb her hair, tells her she will send curtains that will look perfect on the windows. She asks about some facial scrub that she has sent her daughter, stating that her daughter's complexion is now looking so much better. Houston makes no obvious statement about the relationship of the narrator and her mother. She merely allows the reader to hear their conversations, which reveal the underlying emotions and attitudes. The mother disapproves of her daughter's life and constantly puts her down. The narrator tries to please her mother but constantly fails.

After the mother's visit ends, the narrator and Sam complete an annual tradition they have set up in the three years they have been together. They watch the Kentucky Derby then go to a lo cal dog pound and adopt a new dog. They had three until this past year; one of them died of cancer. Sam chooses a new dog, which the narrator states is the ugliest dog at the pound. The narrator suggests that maybe it is time to end the tradition, after Sam suggests that the next year they should get a female dog, a smaller one who will not eat so much food. Sam is disappointed. He thinks it would be bad luck to break the tradition.

Houston's story "For Bo" was published in her first short story collection, Cowboys Are My Weakness (1992), which won the 1993 Western States Book Award. In an article for the Albuquerque Journal, Barry Gaines stated that Houston "writes stories that are psychologically and geographically rich." The most frequent theme in Houston's stories is the West, both the land and the people, especially the men who inhabit it, suggests Dan Mayfield, writing for the Albuquerque Journal.