Houston’s latest a love story | AspenTimes.com

Houston’s latest a love story

Janet Urquhart
Writer Pam Houston will appear at an Aspen Writers Foundation Winter Words event at Paepcke Auditorium on Tuesday.

Author Pam Houston’s fans tend to relate to the stories in her growing body of work. The Colorado writer’s latest, “Sight Hound,” is no exception.Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet will be reaching for the tissue box by the final chapters.”Of course, a lot of people are telling me their best-dog-I-ever-had stories, which is better than the worst-boyfriend-I-ever-had stories,” said Houston, whose award-winning “Cowboys Are My Weakness” no doubt inspired the latter confessions.She’ll be taking questions and dog stories on Tuesday, when the Aspen Writers’ Foundation hosts Houston as part of its Winter Words series. The author, a regular participant in foundation events, will speak at 5:30 p.m. at Aspen’s Paepcke Auditorium; tickets are $20.Houston, on a whirlwind book tour that found her in Alaska early last week, promises a combination reading/speaking engagement with plenty of time for questions from the audience. The focus, of course, is “Sight Hound,” billed as her first novel after two successful collections of linked short stories, “Cowboys” and “Waltzing the Cat.”

“Sight Hound,” like “Waltzing the Cat” – winner of the Willa Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction – blurs the line between fiction and fact. The novel is largely autobiographical, and Houston fans will recognize the parallels to her own life – the common threads that weave through her books.The novel was born in the waiting room of a veterinary hospital, where Dante – Houston’s Irish wolfhound in real life – was being treated for bone cancer. He died in February 2002, but not before teaching Houston some valuable life lessons. The Dante of “Sight Hound” does the same for his human – his quasi-fictional owner, Rae.”This is a love story about a girl and her dog,” Houston said. “I spent a lot of time with this great dog, and he taught me a lot of things about love and loss.”The story is pieced together via the perspectives of various characters, both human and animal, the wisest of whom is Dante, a pooch with a penchant for philosophy: Buddha said, “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” My work, this time around, was to teach my human that she deserved to be loved. And faith, of course, because you can’t have love without it.”I wanted to write a book that had a lot of first-person narratives that were not me,” Houston explained.

Giving a voice to Dante and a couple of other pets in the novel wasn’t a big reach for Houston.”I’ve always had a hard time with the term ‘anthropomorphism,'” she said. (In fact, Houston had trouble getting the word – it means attributing human characteristics to a god, animal or object – out of her mouth).”To assume animals don’t have emotions, I mean, that’s ridiculous,” she said. “They’re hopeful, they’re happy, they’re angry, they’re anxious, they’re guilty … they’re all the things that we are.”Houston calls her latest work more generous, less edgy, than her prior efforts, which also include the clearly autobiographical “A Little More About Me.””I like it because I like the person better who wrote it. He [Dante] made me a kinder person – more generous with everyone and more generous with myself.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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