More than a compilation of short stories about travel, Pam Houston’s "Contents May Have Shifted" is a clear and thoughtful expression of the human relationship with the world.
It’s no surprise that Houston has contributed to "The O. Henry Prize Stories" anthology, among other notable publications. The respective chapters of "Contents" contain stories that satisfy in their brevity while leaving interesting open ends.
Themed on airplane travel and relationships, the poetic stories reflect on the wanderlust and emotional self-discovery of fictional character Pam. Chapter after chapter, the overall story is told by travel adventures from Colorado to Argentina. Each different story slowly reveals more about the main character and her goals in life.
Most stories focus on Pam's views regarding her personal relationships. The interwoven stories are serious and ordered at times, but the visual landscape the author presents constantly bring life to the overall presentation.
In "Contents" Houston writes, “I have spent my life trying to understand the way this rock and this ache go together why sunlight under fog is better than the sum of its parts why my best days and my worst days are always the same days.”
An enjoyable, common theme throughout the book is the telling of travels with mentions of hotels, cities and food. Each description of food, it seems, tells us more about the character’s impressions and moods. Many parts in these tales —food, transportation, introductions of new characters, description of places — put the reader into the proper pattern to receive the whole account.
The chapters are a breeze to get through in a very enjoyable way. The reader becomes endeared to the main character, Pam, and each chapter is a delicious path to the next. Most readers will happily zoom through the book's 303 pages.
There are instances of strong language, including swearing, and topics of discussion between characters, including sexual references, that may be offensive so some readers.
"Contents May Have Shifted" is recommended for any lover of travel or geography. It is also appealing to women, but can easily satisfy most readers. The book is best targeted for those 18 or older.
The novel is strong minded, lovely and thoughtful. Houston’s voice comes clearly through her prose. An overall great novel, "Contents" is an interesting way of showing short stories. It is a solid, good read.
For those wanting a new kind of travel novel or a new kind of novel presentation, "Contents May Have Shifted" is perfect for you.
Livi Whitaker is a freelance writer and authors the positive blog for all things lovely, www.thebrightbit.com