Summary and book reviews of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It


by Maile Meloy

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2009, 240 pages
    Jul 2010, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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Book Summary

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 readers.

Meloy’s 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 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.

Travis, B

Chet Moran grew up in Logan, Montana, at a time when kids weren’t 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 didn’t kick or shy because they were wild; they kicked and shied because for millions of years they’d had the instinct to move fast or be lion meat.

“You mean because they’re wild,” his father had said when Chet advanced this theory.

He couldn’t 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 ...

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Even if I wasn't already a fan of Maile Meloy's writing, I would have read Both Ways 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 Members Only (291 words).

Media Reviews


Here, as in previous works like Half in Love, Meloy has a gift for portraying the tedium of waiting for things to happen in a place where they rarely do - and the shock that comes when something finally occurs. And if the mark of a good summer read is adultery and violence . . . well, it has that too.

Los Angeles Times

In less able hands this convention turns lugubrious and contrived. But Meloy's lean, targeted descriptions and her ultimately compassionate eye make this journey hurt so good.

Time Magazine

These 11 stories are quick, powerful jabs, startling in their economy; you're propelled toward each ending, certain she won't be able to wrap it up in one more page, and you're proved wrong every time

Publishers Weekly

Meloy's characters frequently leave each other or let each other down, and it is precisely that - their vulnerabilities, failures and flaws - that make them so wonderful to follow as they vacillate between isolation and connection.

Kirkus Reviews

The author seldom allows a trickle of hope to lighten her characters' anguish, but she gives them a consciousness and dignity that make their experiences deeply moving.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Readers who have waited impatiently for Meloy's return to this genre, perhaps the one in which Meloy herself seems most at home, have a treat in store.

Reader Reviews


Great Read
From the first story of unrequited love to the last story of love fulfilled and love's potential, I was caught up in the magic that Maile Makoy created with each of her eleven short stories. Her book reminded me of just how wonderful short stories ...   Read More

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