Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It

Short stories appeal to me – a quick fix when a quiet moment needs acceleration.  Maile Meloy’s collection of 11 short stories in Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It includes simple, striking plots with flawed characters at the crossroads of deciding which way to have it – when they can’t have it both ways.

Each vignette connects to a dilemma confronting the key character – some funny, others tragic, and the settings range from Montana to the East Coast – one in Argentina. Meloy sometimes makes the decision obvious; other times she will leave you wondering what will happen next – or hoping that you know.  My favorites were the first and last stories. In  “Travis, B.”  a young Montana ranch hand falls in love with a beautiful young lawyer who commutes nine hours one-way twice a week to teach a part-time adult education class.  The situation is set for failure – her commute, her teaching job, their differences.  Although Meloy plays on the romantic possibilities, the impossibility wins out.  In “O Tannenbaum” a stranded couple named Bonnie and Clyde hitch a ride with a family out to cut down their Christmas tree.  The danger is not in picking up the strangers but in the yearnings they bring out.

In between are assorted tales – most with some humor and with O’Henry like shifts in the possibilities – unexpected twists, but not necessarily with O’Henry’s trademark happy endings.  Meloy cleanly creates scenes with duality, and it’s possible to see the resolution going either way – but probably not both ways.

After reading Meloy’s The Apothecary, targeted for a young adult audience, I looked for more.  This author knows how to tell a story – long and short.

In Honor of Edgar Allan Poe – Father of the Short Story

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday; the “father of the short story” would be 202.

The New York Times book review section uses the insights of three famous authors – Francine Prose, Joyce Carol Oates, and Roxanna Robinson – all who have written both novels and short stories – to capture “Small Moments,”  their reflections on the short story form, with lots of ideas for short stories to read in …

  • Colm Toibin’s The Empty Family
  • Charles Baxter’s Gryphon
  • Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision

Toibin’s collection sounds a little depressing, with tales of melancholy and regret; likewise, Baxter’s disturbed Midwesterners;  Pearlman’s ” perceptive and funny” stories sound right for me.  

“Pearlman writes about predicaments – odd, wry, funny, and painful – of being human.”

My library only has her second collection – Love Among the Greatsguess I’ll start there.

For the New York Times Book Review article:

and for more on Edgar Allan Poe:

By Nightfall – Cunningham and Peggy Lee

Time to make changes?  Are you singing Peggy Lee’s anthem – “Is That All There Is” at the beginning of a new year?  Michael Cunningham’s latest book By Nightfall has a middle-aged art dealer disappointed with his life and looking for the answer, but the story would have made a better short story than short novel.

Someone had commented that the book had a punch of an ending, so I soldiered on.  Somewhere around the middle, I decided I needed to skim through to the end – going back if the wording warranted more information on the plot.  But this book really has no plot – other than a forty something married Manhattan art dealer going through a midlife crisis.

Cunningham knows how to use words, and some of his gems may make it worthwhile:

“Parenthood, it seems, makes you nervous for the rest of your life.”

“… you’re not the first fool for love.”

“I was envious.  I didn’t want to be myself.  I didn’t want to be some mature, levelheaded person who could cut him a check …I wanted to be…Free…”

The ending?  Yes, it has that O’Henry wallop, but takes way too long to get there – and

Peggy Lee

that’s all there is…