978-0-671-02637-0 / 9780671026370

Waltzing the Cat


Publisher:Washington Square Press



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About the book:

When Lucy O'Rourke was 2 her father threw her into the New Jersey surf. She passed the flotation test then, but nature--wild and human--has been subjecting her to variations on the theme ever since. True, the thirtyish photographer-protagonist of Waltzing the Cat is drawn to dangerous locales, from the Ecuadorian jungle where murderous grand caymans lie at the ready to the Provincetown beaches where her latest nominee for Mr. Right seems only a hair less lethal. But as she has yet to learn, the most elemental struggles begin at home. In the heartbreaking title story, Lucy's classically disconnected WASP family channels all available affection through Suzette, their roly-poly feline (29 pounds and counting!). "The cat and I were always friends until I left home and fell in love with men who raised dogs and smelled like foreign places. Now when I come home for a visit the cat eyes me, territorial, like an only child."

Lucy's survival strategies also desert her when it comes to men. They're trouble when they don't want her, more so when they do. In addition, they're adept at giving the answer "no"--a trait they share with the males in Pam Houston's equally fine first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness. In "The Whole Weight of Me," for instance, Lucy's latest lad yet again eases himself out of things when she tells him she wants to see him soon. "'That would be great,' he said, in a voice that said clear as a bell that it wouldn't. And it was like someone had spliced together the wrong rolls of film from two different movies; it was that instantaneous how everything changed."

A less graceful, less wry writer would not be able to map Lucy's self-conscious journey of discovery with such ease and agility. Houston's adventurer is the sort of woman who runs into Carlos Castaneda after she's just missed a plane.

What everybody says now is, How do you know it was really him, like that is the pertinent question. It was him, I say, like I learned in graduate school, or another man by the same name. I mean, is it less interesting if it was just some guy who thought he was Carlos Castenada, or more?
On the other hand, she's also the type who gets recognized while checking out a display of animal-shaped dildos--"the kangaroo, the rabbit, the great brown bear, noses and ears turned inward, poised at the ready"--in the first sex shop she's dared to enter. Wherever Lucy is, her creator--often in the space of a single sentence--can quickly fill in the most crushing experience with a mix of longing and expertly timed comedy. --Kerry Fried

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