Customer Reviews: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It
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on July 17, 2009
This is my first exposure to the work of Maile Meloy, but if my enjoyment of this collection of short stories is any indication, I think I have just found a new favorite author! Speaking literarily, Meloy must be a Hydra or something. How else to explain 11 stories of acutely observed characters, graceful prose and achingly naked insights, each distinctly different in tone and approach?
Each story is a complete reality explored in the most poetic, economic language I've encountered since Truman Capote, plus she possesses a way with regional detail that rivals Carson McCullers. Some stories, like "Spy vs. Spy" will make you laugh out loud, while others, like "Travis B." will blindside you and won't be aware of your eyes tearing up until the words have become too blurry to read. The chilling "The Girlfriend" is like Stephen King if Stephen King could write.
I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book more or been as unhappy to come to the end.
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on July 13, 2009
This one's as solidly stunning as her first collection, Half in Love. Few flashy plot points, zero flashy sentences, but a confidence in the telling so acute that the characters' lives stay with you for a long time. Meloy GETS people, and she gets the West the way few writers do--the comfort and anxiety of slow open spaces, the barreling toward progress and development and peopled places not inconsistent with the ache for untouched land. This is by far the best collection of shorts this year.
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on July 29, 2009
These stories will make you think as well as tug at your heartstrings. There is something in all of them that goes far beneath the surface of universal human truths. It's funny because the ages of the people range from just out of their teens to their 50's or so, though most are 30 or 40 something's, all of them are relatable however. You can feel for the 20 something farm hand falling for a slightly older woman just as much as you do for the middle aged couple contemplating the state of their marriage and where to go with it. I can't help comparing Meloy's story collection to Elizabeth Strout's short stories "Olive Kittridge". (Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer for fiction). Strout's characters are many different ages but mostly the perspective is looking back through Olive's eyes from somewhere in her 60's. Meloy's folks are looking ahead to what might be, possibilities, Strout's look back and try and make sense of how their past is shaping their present and how it's impacted their current array of choices. Both Meloy and Strout have immense insights and lovely moments of interaction that comes after tension, as if the sun broke through clouds and suddenly there's a realization that life doesn't have to be so complicated. Both authors write beautifully and with few words they create an evocative atmosphere that is their's alone. Last week I finished Meloy's debut story collection `Half in Love' and even in 2003 Meloy had a distinct voice and lots to say. Her work has a sweetness whereas Strout can cast a slightly menacing milieu that makes you dread a little to keep reading. They both have a delicious sense of humor as well though, even through the sadness, Meloy's is a lighter touch.
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VINE VOICEon September 21, 2009
There are eleven finely written short stories in Maile Meloy's new collection titled, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. One theme through these stories is the desire of an individual for more than he or she seems to have now or is experiencing. Sometimes those desires are realized, often they are not. Meloy presents real people in relationships that most readers will recognize. Her writing presents just the right amount of conflict among her characters to allow her to use the short story form effectively and not waste a single word.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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on December 21, 2009
Almost all her characters are maladjusted, but in no way nefarious: lawyers, Montana residents, adulterous spouses, affluent and idiosyncratic older women, women in their youth who are close to their fathers in nice as opposed to creepy ways, and various mixtures thereof. They are people who act illogically, against their own best interests by taking advantage of those that care about them the most, later they submit themselves in a blind pursuit for those they desire. Exaggerated overtures of romance and knowingly setting in motion situations they'd rather avoid. Meloy's prose is so clear, calm and intelligent that the characters behavior becomes strikingly easy relatable.

I admire the author's cautious reigning in of the plot because it manifests itself surprisingly not in the way she plots stories, which is boldly, but in how she chooses to reveal her plots, delivering shocking twists in as low-key manner as possible. I found myself delightfully saddened at each of the stories endings. So much unfinished business, but I did not find myself resentful due to the absence of a neatly packaged ending,. I instead found myself admiring her bravery for allowing her stories to mirror the quotidian of unfinished business experienced by all those who suffer through the basics of human interaction and including the most intimate relationships. I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in deep character analysis without the distraction of a superfluous plot.
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on March 6, 2012
Meloy's collection of short stories examines situations where characters are faced with what seems to me a choice between that which is heavily desired and dutifully mundane. The collection opens with one of my favorite stories, "Travis, B". In this short, the author depicts a shy and untested love; cut off before it could turn into something - love or otherwise. Meloy was quite deft at putting this reader in the same emotional space as Chet as he guardedly extends himself to Beth, exposing his desire for requited love (or for sex, it could have gone either way but I was obviously feeling a bit more sensitive when I read it :-) ).

"O Tannenbaum" is my other favorite and bookends the collection with a dangerously titillating tale of a married couple who picks up a stranded couple on a dark mountain highway. This encounter kept me on edge as it revealed precariously forbidden, deliciously decadent fantasies that had to be reconciled with the moral confines of the time. I found myself smiling a lot while reading this short; not sure if it was the content of the story or the author's tight orchestration of the words and scenes that delivered it.

While these are two of the stories I enjoyed most from the collection the other stories from "Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It" reinforce the theme of desire versus virtue. But what about the other Way - you know, the stuff that lays between the two extremes making it possible for All Ways to Be the Best Way to Have It? There were a few stories in the collection that I'd love to see expanded to novel form with a third choice in the mix. Overall, "Both Ways . . . "was an enjoyable quick read that left me wanting more of each story; the way a good collection of shorts should. Recommended.
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on February 27, 2010
There once was a time when I didn't read short stories, much less short story collections, because I didn't want to get invested in characters only to have to give them up fairly quickly when the story ended. Boy, I'm glad I shook myself free of that quirk, otherwise I wouldn't have read a fantastic book like Maile Meloy's Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. This collection is on both the New York Times' list of the year's notable books as well as Amazon's 100 best list, and as I discovered last year, I can rarely go wrong with their recommendations.

This collection is about relationships of all kinds and the emotions that these relationships uncover and foster. From the opening story, "Travis, B.," which tells of a young ranch hand's desire to open up to a lawyer working as a night school teacher in rural Montana, to the closing story "O Tannenbaum," which highlights marital discord and temptation during the holiday season, Meloy's writing is at times humorous, at times heartbreaking, always memorable and always terrific. All 11 stories hit slightly different notes and provoked different reactions in me, but I also found myself struck by her fantastic use of language.

If you're a short story fan, add this to your reading list, stat. If you're not, I'd recommend you pick this up anyway. You won't be disappointed.
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on December 17, 2011
In America "nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," but in the America envisioned by Maile Meloy the shortlist has been amended to death and infidelity (or, its contaminated form, lechery). The eleven stories here treat the bleak landscapes of her fiction with a restrained and sometimes lighthearted touch that is nearly always as distressing as it is effective.

"Travis, B.," the tale that opens the collection, seems to be the universal favorite among readers; it is also mine. Both the setting and the circumstances evoke (without imitating) the best stories of Annie Proulx. A lonely ranch hand wanders into an adult education classroom because it's the only thing that seems to be happening in town that night; he becomes infatuated with the teacher, a lawyer who has been "commuting" nine and a half hours (each way!) to teach the class. It's an impossible relationship, but it doesn't keep him from falling hard. Similarly, the adroitly concise "Two-Step" is about a woman comforting a friend whose husband is suspected of cheating; the story's midpoint twist unveils a liaison as unlikely to last as one requiring a ten-hour drive.

Meloy's fiction is (thankfully) understated throughout. She avoids the sentimental or melodramatic or ponderous, although her plots would tempt a lesser writer to extremes. She is at her best when she throws her characters into confined (or confining) situations. A couple of stories, however, are set on a broader stage and she strains to make things credible; what might be minimalist suddenly seems light. "Red from Green," for example, features a lawyer and his brother and daughter who take a potential witness in a workplace civil suit on a rafting and hunting trip, in an effort to convince him to testify; the brothers are oblivious of the man's designs on the fifteen-year-old girl. The shortness of the story and the pithiness of the prose don't support the convoluted relationships and schemings; the daughter is the only believable character, while the three men are little more than ciphers whose motivations and desires are left unsaid and unknowable.

Contrastively, the book's finale, "O Tannenbaum," avoids the complexities of illegal poaching and industrial poisoning and courtroom maneuvers and instead describes two couples, strangers to each other, and a child thrown together in a blizzard when the car belonging to the delightfully named Bonnie and Clyde is stolen. All five bring their own dramas to a claustrophobic and unsettling situation (the "outlaws" have serious relationship issues, to say the least). It's the perfect story to end a very good collection, in which "the threat of disorder and the steady, thrumming promise of having everything" constantly collide.
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on June 11, 2011
A very mixed bag, this collection of short stories. People letting each other down, in one way or another. But all done with a very convincing 'voice'.
My favourite story of the nine was 'O Tannenbaum' which charts the complicated coming together of two couples. Recommended reading.
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on June 12, 2012
Literature is both my rabid passion and profession (phd candidate in comp.literature), and I decided to give Meloy a try after reading her elegant story in the New Yorker. TO give you an idea of my tastes, some of my fav. authors would be Nabokov, DF Wallace, Saul Bellow, Henry James, V. Woolf etc.

I don't remember reading such stripped-down, subtle and delicate descriptions of human situations lately, despite being an avid s. story reader, this book in my opinion is a great literary achievement yet quite the page-turner as well (two qualities that,alas rarely coexist in books)
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