Pam Houston, best-selling author of Cowboys Are My Weakness, returns to the subject of relationships in her captivating new book, Waltzing the Cat. This time, her heroine is Lucy O'Rourke, a bright, successful landscape photographer in her early thirties, whose life, nonetheless, seems like one false start after another, way too much up and down to keep winding up at the very same place. More often than not, that place is an unsatisfying relationship. Convinced that anybody is better than nobody, Lucy takes up with a string of men bound to hurt and disappoint her. In these 11 intertwined and insightful stories, we meet Gordon, the lover turned stalker with a jealous streak as vicious as a heat seeking missile; blond, beautiful Carter, who is so physically and emotionally distant that Lucy dubs their relationship virtual love; and Erik, a brilliant Norwegian with a penchant for blowing things up, who keeps it together to the tune of a fifth and half of tequila a day. Indeed, wherever Lucy goes, trouble seems to follow. An inveterate thrill seeker, she endures a hair-raising descent over the vortex of rapids in Cataract Canyon, a freak attack by a grand cayman in the Amazon, and a hurricane in the Gulf Stream. Houston's knowledge of rivers and fine sense of storytelling make these accounts riveting.

For all her misadventures, Lucy is a strong woman with a deep desire to change her life. In Moving from One Body of Water to Another, a chance meeting with Carlos Castenada in LAX gives her the strength to return to her beloved Rocky Mountains, to Hope, Colorado, and a ranch that is gently slipping into the Rio Grande River. In Hope, Lucy finds a place that could forgive you all your years of expectations, a place that could allow you in time to forgive yourself. Here, at last, was a home where the dirt feels like goodness under your feet. Slowly, with the help of wise women friends, Lucy begins to break out of her old patterns and make a new life. Readers will cheer for her as they would for a friend as she discovers, at last, how to trust in herself and all she has to offer the world. It's easy to believe being alone is the strong thing, says Lucy finally, but the river taught me long ago that it's a stronger thing still to make yourself fragile. To say I love you, I dare you, I want you with me. Choices can't be good or bad, a friend tells Lucy early on. There is only the event and the lessons learned from it. In Waltzing the Cat, Pam Houston teaches us that hope and redemption are always possible and sometimes found in the most unlikely places.

Beth Duris is a writer for The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Virginia.

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