Maile Meloy’s tender, transcendent collection of 11 short stories, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, examines the aftermath of ordinary human ambiguity and betrayal as narrated by Bronson Pinchot and Kirsten Potter, two superb readers who breathe pathos and wry humor into each tragicomedy with haltingly paced, loaded silences that mimic awkward conversations in real time.
The concept of dual narrators isn’t gimmicky here. Like campfire singers passing a harmonica, Pinchot and Potter are in total sync, taking turns chronicling Meloy’s morally confused cast of ranchers, doctors, teachers, and lawyers. Like many of us, these characters are so tethered to the safety of routine, they’d rather bicker, ski, drive around strangers named Bonnie and Clyde even horse ride straight into affliction, than commit a single life-altering action. “The Children” introduces Fielding, a cheater who ultimately settles for his wife. “A braver man, or a more cowardly one, would simply flee,” Fielding notes. “A happier or more complacent man would stay and revel in the familiar... He seemed to be none of those things.”
Rural Montana, with its bleak, glacial skies, anchors much of Both Ways, and its austere setting captures the hardship and risk of loving. In “Nine”, Valentina’s caring mother is too distracted by a sour boyfriend to notice she’s steamed and served a slug for dinner, along with fresh vegetables from the garden. Existing in survival mode may be honorable in this world, but Potter and Pinchot reject the constant climate of prickliness by pitching their voices low and earthy. Their murmurs, sweet and smoky as black cherry jam, elevate the spare, contained beauty of Meloy’s prose, all exquisite lines and bones, into the fiction writing equivalent of Audrey Hepburn’s face. Nita Rao
Award-winning writer Maile Meloy’s return to short stories explores complex lives in an austere landscape with the clear-sightedness that first endeared her to fans.p>Eleven unforgettable new stories demonstrate the emotional power and the clean, assured style that have earned Meloy praise from critics and devotion from readers and listeners. Propelled by a terrific instinct for storytelling, and concerned with the convolutions of modern love and the importance of place, this collection is about the battlefields—and fields of victory—that exist in seemingly harmless spaces, in kitchens and living rooms and cars. Set mostly in the American West, the stories feature small-town lawyers, ranchers, doctors, parents, and children and explore the moral quandaries of love, family, and friendship.
A ranch hand falls for a recent law-school graduate who appears unexpectedly—and reluctantly—in his remote Montana town. A young father opens his door to find his dead grandmother standing on the front step. Two women weigh love and betrayal during an early snow. Throughout the book, Meloy examines the tensions between having and wanting, as her characters try to keep hold of opposing forces in their lives: innocence and experience, risk and stability, fidelity and desire.
Knowing, sly, and bittersweet, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It confirms Maile Meloy’s singular literary talent. Her lean, controlled prose, full of insight and unexpected poignancy, is the perfect complement to her powerfully moving storytelling.
©2009 Maile Meloy (P)2010 Blackstone Audio
“[Meloy] is such a talented and unpredictable writer that I’m officially joining her fan club; whatever she writes next, I’ll gladly read it.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“Meloy’s lean, targeted descriptions and her ultimately compassionate eye make this journey hurt so good.” (Los Angeles Times)
"[R]eads like a Bruce Springsteen album sounds: raw with a tender wildness and loaded with adolescent ache.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Maile Meloy’s stories, mostly set in Montana, are studies of people caught between conflicting desires or in unsustainable moments. The plots are pretty minimalist, focused less on “what happens” than on what goes on in the minds of the protagonists. A shy young man is drawn to a teacher whose long commute makes romance effectively impossible. A man antagonized by his adult younger brother on a ski vacation discovers that peace between them may require conflict. A girl develops an attraction to the son of her mother’s boyfriend, even as it becomes clear that the boyfriend isn’t a keeper, which raises questions about what we learn from our parents about relationships. A woman must comfort her friend, who has guessed that her husband is cheating on her, but not that the protagonist is the other woman -- and what happens when the husband comes in the door? In the most chilling piece, a man confronts the girlfriend of the teenager who raped and murdered his daughter, and learns something he might have been better off not knowing.
For the most part, these are stories where Meloy constructs some finely-balanced tensions, then leaves the reader at the tipping point, to contemplate what must happen next, or at least the implications of what must be realized. I wouldn’t have minded a little more variety to the themes (many are about infidelity, jealousy, and selfishness), but Meloy is a skilled writer, insinuating the charged emotions of a moment with just a few words, then leaving the fuse to burn down in the reader’s mind. Those who appreciate finely-tuned short fiction that eschews stylistic flourishes will probably enjoy this compact collection.
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