I've recently been very into Pam Houston. It started when I picked up her first book of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness (remember, Amazon is for research, indie bookstores are for buying!), based solely on my love for its title. Not generally being a short story person, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. The stories are basically all about the same woman/type of woman--a early-mid 30's woman born and raised on the East coast by dysfunctional parents who expatriates to Colorado, gets into an artistic profession (usually photography or writing), does a lot of outdoor activities, especially boating/rafting, has unsuitable taste in men, and loves dogs. But they are not boring, each story illuminating a bit more of this woman/these women, and Houston's love for nature, the West, and especially dogs shines through.
Next, I encountered Houston in her introduction to Woman's Best Friend: Women Writers on the Dogs in Their Lives (edited by Megan McMorris, Seal Press, March 28, 2006), which I reviewed here. In her piece, Houston wrote about her Irish Wolfhound, Dante, and mentioned the autobiographical novel she'd written about him, Sight Hound (W.W. Norton, January 30, 2005). After reading about Dante, and seeing a copy of Sight Hound's amazing paperback cover, I couldn't wait to read it. So I got it from the library and cried my way through it a couple of weeks ago. It's about Rae, the same type of woman as those featured in Cowboys Are My Weakness, though this time she's older and much more clearly based very closely on Houston herself.
I finished Sight Hound just in time for Houston's more recent book of short stories, Waltzing the Cat (W.W. Norton, October 1998) to come in from the library, and I've consumed it over the past couple of days. The stories are very much in the same vein as those in Cowboys Are My Weakness, showcasing the same composite of Houston-like characters in their time in between where we left them in Cowboys and when they all merged into Rae in Sight Hound. There are stories about rafting, dogs, and a ranch in Colorado that feels like home. And the stories feel like home to me.
The last Houston book on my list, which I haven't yet started, is her book of personal essays, A Little More About Me (Washington Square Press, October 3, 2000). Given the clearly autobiographical nature of Houston's fictional characters, I'm curious to see what she has to say when she's not under the auspices of fiction. I can't imagine it will be anything but enjoyable. And then I hope she publishes something else really quickly.
Houston is compared (at least by Amazon) to another Western-inspired female short story writer, Annie Proulx. Proulx is, as I'm sure you remember, responsible for the short story (and, with Larry McMurtry, the screenplay) "Brokeback Mountain." I'm a big fan of Proulx's (maybe I like short stories more than I thought, or maybe just ones about the West...), but in many ways I like Houston better. Although she explores some of the same issues as Proulx (the interplay between people and land, love and independence, etc.), Houston's stories are more accessible to me and more amusing, and she is able to write about rural life without divorcing it entirely from non-rural life (her characters spend time in cities as well as in Colorado and find beauty and meaning in both). If you like Proulx, though, chances are Houston is worth a read for you as well. And if you've never read either, I'd start with Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Scribner, May 10, 1999) for Proulx and Cowboys for Houston.