‘Sight Hound’ a look at our desire to connect
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
The great news about Pam Houston’s first novel is this: She turns out to be as good at fiction as she is at nonfiction.
“Sight Hound’s” main character, Rae, resonates with everything one of America’s favorite writers already has told us about herself in “Cowboys Are My Weakness” (a best seller), “Waltzing the Cat” (an award winner) and “A Little More About Me.”
Rae hikes in the mountains by herself. She rafts the entire length of Wyoming’s Green River. She owns a ranch in Colorado. She is a successful creative writer who, emotionally vulnerable, struggles with love, weight and self-esteem problems brought on by a rocky relationship with less-than-loving parents. She’s the fictional clone of the author.
But “Sight Hound” is fiction. Houston’s telling this tale through the voices of a dozen characters. A therapist, a veterinarian, a veterinarian’s assistant, a ranch manager and even the ranch manager’s cat get a shot at describing Rae’s world from their own perspectives.
Much of the novel is written in the voice of Rae’s dog, Dante, an insightful Irish wolfhound who quotes Buddha and Goethe. All this can be initially disconcerting, but readers who stick with it will find that Houston’s technique works.
The multiple viewpoints move readers through the tale of a woman whose relationships with friends and lovers are foundering at the same time she is coping with the cancer of the wolfhound who has given her the simplest, purest and wisest love she has ever known. Around her is a Greek chorus of characters who see her tragic, comic and absolutely lovable side in ways she cannot always see herself.
All of these characters are complex, a few are unhappy, most of them are funny and none is as stable as Dante, the dog whose eyes, Houston writes, are as serene as a temple in Tibet.
Dante trains his human to be still and watch. He’s a “sight hound” who doesn’t run around and sniff out opportunities, as Rae does as she experiments with love and sex. Love, he finally teaches her, is really a very simple thing that has to do with loyalty, trust and laughter.
Houston’s genius is that these lessons are subtly cradled in the story. A reader won’t be hunting for wisdom as much as simply letting a fine book do its work. All but the coldest hearts will find “Sight Hound” an astoundingly deep exploration into the desires of humans to connect.
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