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.
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 Greats – guess I’ll start there.
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