Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
Stories by Maile Meloy
Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group
First, the title: this may be one of my favorite titles ever. (Short story collections tend to have the best titles, in my opinion.)
Second, I don’t know how many times I’ve checked this out of the library. At least three times now. Every time, it’s been one of those books that I’ve returned unread. With only 11 stories, it’s not unbearably long, so I shouldn’t have had any problem getting through this.
During this week and last, I made time for these stories – and I’m so glad I did. All but two of these stories are perfection, a ratio that (in my view) is pretty good in a short story collection. These stories surprise you. They’re the kind that are powerfully affecting, with characters that stay with you for days. That says something about a short story. I’m still thinking about Chet Moran from “Travis, B,” about Rita from “Lovely Rita,” Bonnie and Clyde from “O Tannenbaum.” (Yes. Bonnie and Clyde.)
All the characters in this collection want – as the title says – something both ways. That may take the form of affections from a rich and distant grandmother (“Liliana”), a brotherly relationship that isn’t fraught with competition (“Spy vs. Spy”), or a father desperately seeking answers about his daughter’s death (“The Girlfriend”).
“She watched him, his eminently intelligent wife. He pulled her closer to make the scrutiny stop, and feeling her head on her shoulder was reassuring. He was doomed to ambivalence and desire. A braver man, or a more cowardly one, would simply flee. A happier or more complacent man would stay and revel in the familiar, wrap it around him like an old bathrobe. He seemed to be none of those things, and could only deceive the people he loved, and then disappoint and worry them when he saw through him. There was a poem Meg had brought home from college, with the line ‘Both ways is the only way I want it.’ The force with which he wanted it both ways made him grit his teeth. What kind of fool only wanted it one way?
“It had started to grow cold, on the deck. The stars were impossibly clear. The bats were out in force. He held his wife and felt himself anchored to everything that was safe and sure, and kept for himself the knowledge of how quickly he could let go and drift free.” (from “The Children,” page 196-197)
4.5 stars out of 5