Sometimes you can have it both ways. Maile Meloy’s new collection of short stories, for example, is an exhibition of both substance and style.
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It features 11 fresh and unique stories, many set in the author’s native Montana. Some, like the story of two combative brothers, are wryly funny; some wear a deep sadness, like the story of a ranch hand who spends almost all of his time alone; and some, like the story of a teen’s last summer at home, are simply true. In all of them, the air is heavy with meaning.
Meloy’s standout is “Lovely Rita,” a love story that mostly takes place in a nuclear power plant. It’s completely heartbreaking in an accessible, believable way. And the rest of the stories offer that same believability as they trace the lines of grace and beauty in everyday human existence. Each one is told patiently, perfectly—even the ones that explode with fear or passion.
That may be Meloy’s greatest strength as a writer: her skill with clarity and control. The images and storylines in Both Ways are clean, yet complex, and somehow Meloy deftly avoids being too obvious. Her dialogue also earns high marks.
But what edges out the other qualities of Both Ways is that these stories, even in their simplicity, are so deep and involving that they forbid their readers to stop turning the pages. Not only will you want to read this book in one sitting, you will want to read each story a second time—and a third. And that’s something not every short story collection achieves.
Meloy has received much praise—including a Guggenheim fellowship and a spot on Granta’s list of Best Young American Novelists, among other honors—for her novels, Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter, and her first book of short stories, Half in Love. She’s undeniably talented, and Both Ways is the latest installment in what is sure to be a long list of beautiful, truthful tales from Maile Meloy.
Jessica Inman writes and edits in Tulsa, Oklahoma.