Oh short stories, why do you taunt me so? I cannot resist you, but you always leave me wanting more, MORE! I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge, unwillingly dragged along from scene to scene, getting caught up in one story only to be whipped away to the next. (Okay, I'll admit, in this analogy I picture myself more as Scrooge McDuck in Mickey's Christmas Carol, but c'mon, who doesn't love that version of Dickens?)
Maile Meloy is phenomenal. She takes your hand and helps you dive right into these people's lives. And the title, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It is so apt. In one story, we meet a young teenage daughter who loves her widowed father, yet is considering boarding school. Her father wants her to have the opportunity to go away to school, but loves her and really wants her to stay. But after a weekend fishing trip in which her father turns a blind eye while a client tries seduce her, things change.
Or then there is Stephen who is "newly orphaned" at 23. He can't bear to sell the home he grew up in, so he goes to work building the power plant that will kill all the fish and wildlife in the river he grew up fishing in. He reconnects with a girl he with whom he went to elementary school, but gives her up when he can see that his friend, Acey, is interested in her. Things happen. She needs Stephen's help. Yet while he wants to protect her, he unwittingly acts as her pimp--which makes you think that "neither way" might be the only way he wants it.
Several of these stories, quite fittingly, dealt with adultery. When you think about it, adultery is the epitome of wanting it "both ways." And while I found myself squirming and thinking "don't do it, don't do it," I couldn't help but marvel at how well the stories were constructed.
Each of these dramas takes place against a bleak backdrop, whether it be a Midwestern town in winter where black ice can claim your life in an instant or a black diamond ski run where one wrong move leads to disaster. But, when you're teetering on the knife's edge of indecision, what better landscape? Not only that, but Meloy is a master at foreshadowing and manages to plant uneasiness in even the most mundane situations--a family meal, a camping trip.
There are moments of sweetness in there, too. For instance, I love this quote:
"There's a look little girls have who are adored by their fathers," Bea said. "It's that facial expression of being totally impervious to the badness of the world. If they can keep that look into their twenties, they're pretty much okay, they've got a force field around them."
My daughters have a dad and a grandpa who love them to pieces, so I'm hoping that force field sticks for a good long while!
Overall, I really enjoyed this collection and have added her novel, Liars and Saints to my "to-read" shelf in Goodreads.
<I checked this book out my library.>