‘In My Next Life’ by Pam Houston

In My Next Life by Pam Houston, 1992

The magic trick:

Summarizing a friendship in a beautifully direct story

This one is a tear-jerker. It may remind you of Amy Hempel’s “In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” as both stories beautifully commemorate friendships severed by death.

Whereas Hempel leans on humor and perhaps some self-loathing, Houston’s story is about as honest as can be. Not that Hempel is disingenuous, of course. It’s just that Houston’s style here is just so purely straightforward, it’s really a thing to behold. There doesn’t appear to be an editorial agenda at all. The narrator simply wants to tell you about her friend – how they met, what she was like, how she made the narrator feel, things the narrator learned from her, and how her life ended.

I can’t imagine being able to take a person in my life and so clearly describe my relationship with them. It’s a marvel.

And that’s quite a trick on Houston’s part.

The selection:

At the end of the day while we were walking out the horses Abby said, “You are a lovely, lovely woman. Tell me what else you do.”

I told her I played the banjo, which was the other thing I was doing at the time, with a group that was only marginally popular with people my age but a big hit with the older folks in the Fallen Arches Square Dance Club.

Abby told me she had always been intimidated by musicians.

She told me I had medieval hair.

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