i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Visions of Girlfriends

April 06, 2005

"The Best Girlfriend You Never Had"

by Pam Houston

As you read this story, I'm sure that you noticed how disjointed the story seemed to be as it leaped from one scene to another. A summary on enotes states, "Houston employs an episodic structure, incorporating flashbacks into her description of a day Lucy spends with a friend, Leo. Only six of the fourteen sections are in the present tense." (This site also mentions that some of the characters in this story appear in other works by Pam Houston.)

In an interview on, Pam Houston says, "The very word outline sends chills up my spine. If there's one thing I'm adamant about, it's that I don't know where I'm going. If I think even for a second I might know, I do everything I can to confuse myself so I won't know anymore." As Ms. Houston keeps herself guessing, she keeps the readers guessing as well. Since readers today have generally short attention spans, keeping us guessing is a good thing.

Another interview with Ms. Houston says, "Pam Houston doesn't believe there's much difference between fiction and non-fiction. .... "Everything I write is 82 percent true," she said."

Today, Pam Hoston is a Director of Creative Writing at UC Davis in California. She lives part of the year in Colorado (hence the references to both California and Colorado in this story.) She has her own website which includes excerpts from some of her other writing (including this story which is included as an excerpt from her short story collection Waltzing the Cat.) She is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio.


Palace of the Fine Arts, San Franscico, California
1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition

The Best Life You Never Had

It's easy to look back over your life and see the choices you coulda/shoulda/woulda made if you had known where you would end up, isn't it? What's the saying... Hindsight is 20/20? As a photographer, Lucy is concerned with vision, not just with appearances as she would like them to be, but as they actually are. For instance, Lucy comments on how she takes the best pictures when no one is paying her to take them - she gives the example of the Asian bride dancing with the chef behind the hedges as her favorite shot.

Why did Lucy move to the city?

After a near-death experience in the Colorado River and being sandwiched between two bad relationship experiences, one with a man and one with a woman, Lucy decides to pick up and move to the city, leaving her old life behind her, hoping that the "straight lines, shiny surfaces, and right angles" of the city would somehow help her find herself. She drives down highway 50 until she reaches San Franscisco:

When she arrives, she takes in the new sights of the city:

The new vegetation -




The Golden Gate Bridge -

(The same bridge that Leo almost leaps off before realizing his "number" would be the meaningless 251.)


Discussion Questions


Lucy is able to live in her idealistic reveries of the city until the day she was "annointed with the nectar of the city gods." Right after we learn about this incident, we learn about Gordon, her abusive stalkerish ex-boyfriend. On the night that Lucy meets Gordon he tells her, "... I am nothing but weak and worthless. So I take the people close to me and try to break them, so they become as week and worthless as me." (p. 772)

Why do you think that Lucy heard these words but didn't think the same would happen to her? Why do people looking for love kid themselves so much? Who hasn't done that?


Which character in the story has the most realistic expectations of love???
Which character has the best grip on love?
Who is the most unrealistic?



What do you think of Guinevere? When she says "You only get a few chances to feel you life all the way through. Before -- you know -- you become unwilling." Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Also, what do you think of the scene with the angel cards when Guinevere says: "I hate that. Last week I had to throw away submit." (p.776)


Why does Leo say, "Aren't I the best girlfriend you never had?" (p. 773)


How do you interpret the line: "I love you," Leo says, and takes both my hands in his. "I mean, in the good way." ? (p. 778)


Why do you think of the incident in the pathfinder when Gordon only brings one pack for the hiking adventure? Do you understand Lucy when she says, "I could tell you the lie I told myself with Gordon. That anybody is better than nobody. And you will know exactly why I stayed in the back of that Pathfinder, unless you are lucky, and then you will not." ? (p. 780)

Moira at 10:42 AM :: Comments (1) :: ::

82% true...I wonder how she came up with that figure...

Posted by: Neha at April 8, 2005 11:41 AM
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