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'Sight Hound' a great first novel


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'Sight Hound' by Pam Houston
W.W. Norton Publishing
Released: January 2005
342 pages
$23.95
By Karinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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I'll admit my bias up front: I'm a huge Pam Houston fan. Her previous two short story collections, "Waltzing the Cat" and "Cowboys are my Weakness," are full of strong young women who provide a welcome reprieve from the vapid chick-lit heroines who overwhelm so much contemporary fiction.

"Sight Hound," Houston's latest release and first novel, lives up to the standard set by her earlier works.

The core of the novel lies in the relationship between Rae, a playwright, and Dante, her Irish wolfhound. Dante, who has been Rae's constant and most trusted companion, has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment after an experimental surgery left him with only three legs.

I know what you're thinking - this is just another sappy novel about a girl and a dog. It's not. Houston takes what could very easily become a trite story and transforms it into a beautiful and engrossing novel peopled with interesting, well-developed characters - both human and animal.

How do you have a well-developed animal? If you're Houston, you let the animal speak for himself. "Sight Hound" is told by 12 different narrators - nine humans, two canines and one feline. Each voice is unique and convincing, and the different perspectives are woven together to create the complex and realistic world of the story.

Though the presence of 12 different narrators is part of what makes "Sight Hound" so memorable, it can also lead to confusion. Especially toward the beginning of the novel, it is difficult to keep the names straight and to remember who is who. Still, the connections and insight gained through the multitude of speakers ultimately makes up for any initial problems.

Through the various narrators, the reader learns just why Dante is so important to Rae, and why the story is worth telling in the first place. The reader learns about Rae's troubled past and relationships gone awry, about her current struggle to carve out a secure place for herself in the world and with the people she cares about, and how she is preparing for a future without her one dependable source of companionship and love: Dante.

The body of the novel is peppered with stories running the gamut of human emotion - devastation, exhilaration, devotion, obsession and everything in between. There are stories of an extreme Bruce Springsteen fan, a proselytizing hockey player, a suicide, and new puppy adventures - all lovingly told. They avoid simply becoming random anecdotes by Houston's ability to keep everything tied in closely to the core of the story.

Houston will admit that much of the story is taken from real life - her life, specifically. In fact, you can see photos of the real Dante on her Web site. Maybe it is the autobiographical nature of the story that allows her to write with such passion, and enables her to draw such emotion from the reader.

"Sight Hound" is a truly wonderful novel. If readers can navigate their way through the maze of narrative voices, they will be rewarded with a touching - and often hilarious - story about the power of friendship, in all of its forms.



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