Symphony Summary
by Pam Houston

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Pam Houston's narrator in the short story "Symphony" finds the best narcotic for her is a first kiss. So she begins a collection of them like a collection of "gold-plated sugar spoons." She claims she has had a relationship with one man from every state.

She also states that this is one of the hardest stories to tell, because very little is right about it and a lot is wrong. Nonetheless, what she is doing with all these men is "delicious and addicting."

The story "Symphony" was first published in Houston's 1992 prize-winning collection Cowboys Are My Weakness, which became a bestseller and established Houston as a young writer to watch. The majority of the stories in this collection deal with many female narrators and their male relationships, most of which end up less than successfully. But the tables are slightly tipped on end in "Symphony" when the narrator lists the many men in her life as some women might describe the most interesting meals they ate on a business trip.

The narrator describes Phillip, for instance, as big and dangerous, a man who has unrestrained desires. He is an imaginative artist, who has traveled the world in search of adventure. He is sensitive and wants children. He is also a master in bed.

Christopher is young and open-hearted. He likes older women and studies biology. For the time being, the narrator says, Christopher is too young, so they are just friends. Christopher says that she is very complicated, wanting more than she admits.

Jonathan is from Botswana, and he is very clever. Jonathan talks a lot about animals, which makes the narrator wonder if it is the animals, not the cowboys, that she is normally attracted to. Jonathan tells her that it is the animal spirit inside the man that woman fall in love with, but they become disappointed when women realize the men are, after all, just men.

There is one more man, but the narrator refuses to discuss him. He is "sacred," she says and it is with him that she has come the closest to falling in love. But in the end, she is concerned that the universe will not allow her to truly fall in love with any of them. So she continues her journey, walking from one to the other men, enjoying them somewhat like a symphony of musical instruments.