Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It

Which is quite a coincidence because I also want it both ways, but both of my ways involve pie. How perfect is that book cover for snowed-in reading? Oh, and since everyone has taken a crack at clever names for this storm, I think it's gone past snoverkill and straight into snorture (bada bing, thank you, I'll be here all week because it's going to take a while to dig out my car).

I'm a sucker for short story collections, and Maile Meloy's don't disappoint. Both Ways is Meloy's second short story collection (the first was Half in Love). Most of her stories deal with infidelity, fidelity, and the slippery emotional minefield between the two. One gets the sense that her characters are always looking for something, something new, something else, but not really knowing what it is (which of course, means you can't find it). The American West is almost a character itself in several of her stories, alternately liberating and threatening, as the plots unfold on ski slopes, rivers, and the barns and factories of remote towns. In "Travis, B.," a limping cowpoke is defeated by the vastness of Montana, and a ski lodge is the backdrop for a vicious fight between brothers that has been raging for decades and finally spills over in the snow in "Spy vs. Spy." The father of a murdered girl in "The Girlfriend" blames his daughter's love of "bigness, ruralness, and westernness" for fostering a deadly independence.

"Two-Step," "O Tannenbaum," and "The Children" all focus on unfaithful partners and the dissolution of partnerships-quickly, brutally, or slowly after thousands of tiny cracks. "Liliana," about a dead and glamorous grandmother, is hilarious and sad, and like the rest of Meloy's stories, about the impossibility of hanging onto someone who is determined to leave. The idea of leaving, alternately impossible and unavoidable, freeing and damaging, runs through Meloy's stories like a ribbon.

Meloy demonstrates a remarkable restraint in her prose, which is clear, uncomplicated, and incisive. Her details never feel superfluous but unfold organically, pulling you into a nuclear power plant, South America, and college towns with equal ease. The collection itself is short and the tightly knotted stories speed you through them, which left me feeling a little breathless and wishing there was one more story at the end. Although her short stories are not as chameleon-like as T.C. Boyle's (one of the best short story writers, in my opinion) this icy little collection is perfect for waiting out the snowpacalypse.

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