Book Review: 'Contents May Have Shifted'

Pam Houston's new novel "Contents May Have Shifted" reads like a travelogue, with its central character searching for understanding across the globe. It's worth traveling along with according to reviewer Alan Cheuse, a writing professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, a brief journey into a new novel with our reviewer Alan Cheuse. The book is called "Contents May Have Shifted" by Pam Houston and it's all about wandering.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Travel plays a huge role in Pam Houston's new book-length work of fiction, if it is fiction. Pam Houston calls her narrator Pam, and her 100-plus short chapters give every impression that they've come out of her own notebook or journal.

Pam travels from Davis, California, where she teaches, to Creed, Colorado, where she owns a small piece of property, and then fans out to various locations around the world - to Alaska, to South Asia, to North Africa, to New Mexico and Wisconsin and Texas.

She's got an adventurous mind and soul. She loves to explore the exotic with a couple of guys with whom she's having fairly disastrous love affairs. And she's, like most modern folks, got a hole in her soul that she's trying to fill with all this travel.

If this sounds a lot like the storyline of the hugely popular book "Eat, Pray, Love," that's because it is. The difference is that Pam never seems to settle anywhere. But if she's unlucky in love, she's certainly lucky in prose. She makes everyday accidental details of nature fly vividly off the page as when, in the distant Bumthang Valley in the kingdom of Bhutan, she notices that in December, all the colors are muted browns, grays and silvers. The river an icy line of mercury and, in the sky above, Sirius, the dog star, is the brightest solitaire in the Himalayan night.

Wherever she goes, Pam Houston, character and novelist, restless in love, uneasy in her soul, keeps her eyes on the stars.

SIEGEL: Pam Houston's novel is "Contents May Have Shifted." Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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