Presents a volume of eleven short works that explores the complexity of life in austere landscapes of the American West, from the tale of a ranch hand who falls for a reluctant newcomer to the story of a young father who is shocked by the reappearance ofhis late grandmother.
Meloy's milieu, like Raymond Carver's, is the American Northwest, although there are some detours into other locales. The stories run the gamut from funny to poignant to downright creepy in tone, but are always compelling.
A lot of the stories have an undercurrent or a hint (sometimes more than a hint) of the danger that women and girls face from unpredictable male figures. I don't mean to say that the book is some feminist tract where the women are good and the men are bad. Most of the men in the book seem motivated by animal urges with civilized rationales superimposed over them, and Meloy shows sympathy and understanding of these urges and rationales. More often than not, she writes from the viewpoint of a male character. And the women are shown to participate willingly in these games of desire, giving themselves over to dangerous situations, and sometimes taking on the role of the predator. All in all, the stories are suspenseful and psychologically believable.
I think I'll be picking up some other books by Meloy before long.
"It was great!" The end.
Maile Meloy's short stories are conflicting at their best moments. They are heartfelt and heartbreaking. They are triumphic and tragic. They are disturbing and delightful all at the same time. Meloy carefully crafts characters in a very short space and despite the brevity, as a reader I fell in love with her characters; I wanted to hug them and cheer for them. And then Meloy does what only the best writers can do without us getting angry with them...she leaves us hanging. Not entirely. Each story has enough of a conclusion that we can surmise what will happen next, but Meloy doesn't end any story with a neat little bow where all the ends are conveniently tied off and we can close the book with a satisfying snap. Each story leaves something (sometimes a little something, sometimes a lot of something) to the reader's imagination. We each know what we want to happen at the conclusion, but rarely does Meloy explicitly share those moments with us. We are left to our own devices, to marvel and wonder. And that is Meloy's genius. And why this is a short story collection worth rereading.
Second, the stories are written in straightforward, yet beautful prose. Meloy is writing about people like you and me, and the style that she uses to tell their stories is consistent with that. No flowery sentences here. Just clear, crisp writing, with every word chosen for a reason. What a joy to read! Meloy also does feel the need to wrap up these stories in neat packages. Instead, we spend time with the characters, often leaving them before a resolution has been reached.
I could tell you my favorite stories ("Red from Green," "Liliana," "O Tannenbaum," "The Children"), but it was really the eleven stories as a package that were so powerful. Each one different from the last, but each layering complexity to the choices that we face in life.
This is one of the best books I've read this year.
In general I'm not a big fan of short stories. They either draw me in and then leave me wanting more or they fail to capture my attention. Maile Meloy did a good job of making me feel immediately connected to the characters and also of creating a clear beginning and an end in her stories. I enjoyed the feeling of getting a brief glimpse into some of the most intimate moments of these ordinary lives. Books written with the flavor of life in the West are always a particular favorite of mine and she invokes the landscape and people with a tenderness and truthfulness that really drew me in. I did wish for a little more hope and happiness for her charcters, but that's me always wanting a happy ending.
I listened to the audio version of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. It is read by Kirsten Potter and Bronson Pinchot. They do a fine job of narrating the stories, using unembellished, plain-spoken voices and intonations as suits the people they are narrating. The short stories work nicely in the audio format.
I usually think a story told well can carry almost any subject matter, and I don't argue with Meloy's capability. These tales, which turn on significant interior moments, are varied, fluent, and well-paced.
However, taken together, they feel too much of a piece, preoccupied as they seem to be with a type of emotional grappling that collapses the world around her characters rather than opening up possibilities. I'd be interested to see what Meloy comes up with if someday she pushes beyond this overpowering sense of confinement.
There are no weak stories here. Meloy knows her craft and chooses wisely. But there are always a few stories that stand out for any particular reader. For me, “Travis, B.,” “Spy vs. Spy,” and “Two-Step” are highlights. But even writing that I’m already thinking of others that I could have chosen. I like the tender, unrequited affection of “Travis, B.” The arch rivalry of “Spy vs. Spy” added a hint of the surreal, perhaps. And “Two-Step” just seemed both mature and sad, the way extra-marital relationships get more tenuous and probably unrealistic as the participants age. There are plenty of insightful observations amongst these tales and enough bon mots to raise a wry smile. Try “Liliana” for unexpected exuberance.
Well worth a read.
Travis.B resonates strongly, while O. Tannenbaum best delivers on the title.
Red from Green seems to be missing something vital - did the father actually betray his daughter
to help his son's court case? or was that all in her mind?
Lovely Rita = uneasy.
Spy vs. Spy = Great title, but annoying contrived arguing.
Two Step = uncomfortably real.
The Girlfriend = horrible and hotel invite just too stupid.
Liliana = dumb, with requisite animal cruelty.
Nine = sad.
Augustin = who can possibly want to know about some jerk who wants to shoot elephants?
The children = ambivalent, but, like most of the others, lacks mystery.