The Kind of People You Trust With Your Life Summary

Pam Houston


In Pam Houston's short story "The Kind of People You Trust With Your Life" in her 1998 book, Waltzing the Cat, the author again introduces a female narrator who is daring, accomplished, and just as unsuccessful in choosing a male partner as any female protagonist in Houston’s writing. Although Houston emphasizes exciting adventures in her short story, a discussion of failed relationships is the real focus.

Houston’s protagonist is Lucy O’Rourke, a professional photographer who lives in the mountains of Colorado. She owns an old ranch, which her grandmother has left to her. Lucy's only two companions are her dog, Ellie, and her boyfriend, Erik, who is an alcoholic. As the story opens, Lucy asks Erik to sober up long enough to leave. He eventually does.

To take Erik’s departure off her mind, Lucy agrees to go for a ride in a glider, a plane that has no engine. BJ, a friend of Lucy’s, encourages Lucy to fly despite the fact that Lucy, for the first time in her life, has admitted out loud that she is afraid. Lucy is used to taking on daring adventures, most of them occurring while riding rapids on some of the wildest rivers in the West, but flying is new for her.

The pilot of the airplane is a young boy, Bobby, who is possibly sixteen years old. Bobby gives Lucy a quick lesson in how to land the glider should something happen to him, and then they take off. A plane with an engine tows the glider up into the air over the mountains, where Bobby searches for a strong draft on which to release his craft. Once they become detached from the tow plane, Bobby is free to play in the wind like a bird. The glider twists and turns and eventually soars more than fifteen thousand feet before diving rapidly toward the earth.

This airborne experience provides Lucy with a new perspective of her newly acquired home down below. She admires the wide expanse of land on which the small cabin sits. The distance from the house also offers her a different viewpoint of her tendency to always fall in love with the wrong men.

As critic Karen Karbo writes for The New York Times, Houston’s stories are made up of “lush natural settings, high adventure and doomed-from-the-first-date love affairs.”