Stephen Gallup's Reviews > Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
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Jun 08, 12

Read from June 05 to 07, 2012

I was feeling bogged down in a novel with too many characters and just happened to notice this short-story collection on my shelf. I have no idea where it came from, but it jumped into my hands and for a while practically seemed to be reading itself.

The title and supposed theme of the collection has to do with choices in life, but I don't find that part really compelling. All fiction involves people making choices, right? The theme of agonizing over one option or another is most obvious in the subset of stories having to do with wandering spouses and teetering marriages. Those reminded me of John Updike's fiction. Like the rest, they're well-done, although I have trouble relating to characters making the kinds of self-destructive mistakes these people are making.

The first story, about an aimless young man who feels attracted to a woman teaching an evening workshop, is haunting, convincing, and close enough to perfection for me. Another very good one concerns two best friends (also young and undirected) working in soul-destroying factory jobs until one falls in love, after which things go downhill for everyone. The story I liked the most (and read twice in one sitting) concerns an unexpected visit by the narrator's rich grandmother--two months after he thought she'd died. ("But," I finally said, "There was an autopsy." I didn't want to offend, and here she was, but there had been an autopsy.) I really didn't know what direction that one was going to take!

In most of the stories, relationships between the characters are strained for one reason or another. Poisoned might be a better word. Again, some of the subject matter was not what I prefer. Can't fault the craftsmanship, however. Several reminded me of the kind of fiction I used to read in The New Yorker.
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