How to Talk to a Hunter

by Pam Houston

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

"How to Talk to a Hunter" by Pam Houston is a meditation on relationships, how we understand each other in the context of those relationships, and the inevitability of our assigned roles in the relationships. The writing in this story is particularly important in conveying those themes. Houston makes several choices as to the style of writing in the story that are as important as the choices made in the narrative. The choices she makes are as metaphorical as the themes in the narrative. She writes,

You will spend every night in this man's bed without asking yourself why he listens to top-forty country.

This quote is interesting not only for what it says, but how it presents it to the reader. Houston uses the second-person, or “you,” style of writing. This writing could add a sense of “knowing” something about the reader, but it really shows the inner monologue of the unnamed protagonist in the story. The character is telling herself something she knows to be true. There is an inevitability to the character’s actions, as if she knows that the future is predetermined, probably based off of her past experiences with the man. There is a certain tragedy to this style of writing. The writing makes things feel as if the female character is trapped in a circle of degradation and emptiness in the relationship.

Houston’s choices in her style of writing and how they inform us about the characters in the narrative are brilliantly poignant. She writes,

The man who has said he's not so good with words will manage to say eight things about his friend without using a gender-determining pronoun.

This line from the story is, again, written from the perspective of a woman both alone in the relationship and cognizant of her own abandonment. She is essentially saying in this quote that the man has been visited by another woman. Instead of being truthful with his partner, he lies to her by avoiding the pronouns "he" or "she."

Two other lines from the narrative that address the distance between the man and woman in the relationship are as follows:

He'll say you are always on his mind, that you're the best thing that's ever happened to him, that you make him glad that he's a man.

Tell him it don't come easy, tell him freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

These lines are important because they show how disconnected the two people in the relationship are from one another. On the greater scale, they show the man’s inability to truly connect, as he can only quote clichés and the songs he listens to on the top-forty country station. The man has no ability to share with his partner how he truly feels about her. This touches on the great tragedy of the story and highlights a major theme of the story; how we are often trapped in relationships that are both careless and disingenuous and the inevitability of our roles in those relationships.

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