Meloys first return to short stories since her critically acclaimed debut, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It is an extraordinary new work from one of the most promising writers of the last decade.
Eleven unforgettable new stories demonstrate the emotional power and the clean, assured style that have earned Meloy praise from critics and devotion from readers. 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 battlefieldsand fields of victorythat 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 reluctantlyin 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 Meloys singular literary talent. Her lean, controlled prose, full of insight and unexpected poignancy, is the perfect complement to her powerfully moving storytelling.
Chet Moran grew up in Logan, Montana, at a time
when kids werent supposed to get polio anymore. In
Logan, they still did, and he had it before he was two. He recovered,
but his right hip never fit in the socket, and his
mother always thought he would die young.
When he was fourteen, he started riding spoiled and un-broke horses, to prove to her that he was invincible. They bucked and kicked and piled up on him, again and again. He developed a theory that horses didnt kick or shy because they were wild; they kicked and shied because for millions of years theyd had the instinct to move fast or be lion meat.
You mean because theyre wild, his father had said when Chet advanced this theory.
He couldnt explain, but he thought his father was wrong. He thought there was a difference, and that what people meant when they called a thing wild was not what he saw in the green horses at all.
He was small ...
Even if I wasn't already a fan of Maile Meloy's writing, I would have read
Is the Only Way I Want It for the title alone. In the collection's
penultimate story, a conflicted husband reflects on a poem by
A.R. Ammons (One
can't/have it/both ways/and both/ways is/the only/way I/want it). He lies
curled up with his wife of three decades, comforted by her intelligence and
aging beauty, while he contemplates leaving her for the recently-teenaged girl
who taught their now-grown children how to swim. The force with which he
wanted it both ways made him grit his teeth. What kind of fool wanted it only
one way? Each of the eleven stories poses this same question, as affairs,
marriages, and childhoods teeter on the edge of decision: go or stay, live it up
or keep on living. None of the characters are terribly likeable, but their
interior conflicts make us feel for them, even as we narrow our eyes at their
lack of fortitude. In "Two-Step", a woman reflects on her best friend's
unfaithful husband: He was acting like the man he wanted to be, in hopes that
he could become it. He would keep acting until he couldn't stand it anymore, and
then he would be the man he was.
These are stories about people becoming who they are, and the great drama is in the wishy-washiness of the wrestling. Meloy's prose is clean, but not too spare, detailed without feeling labored, quiet, but never detached -- all of which elevate the often piddling nature of the central conflict to great emotional effect. For a writer these stories are examples of true craftsmanship, and for a reader they are just plain good.
Abbreviated from "Short Stories for Summer by Lucia Silva (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).
Full Review (291 words).
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