Both Ways is the Only Way I want it
 by Maile Meloy

Canongate 2010, Paperback
First collection? No
Awards: one of New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books 2009

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love, the novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter. Meloy’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, Granta, and other publications, and she has received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/ Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, she was chosen as one of Granta’s 21 Best Young American Novelists. She lives in Los Angeles.

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"...but he couldn't keep her from his own brother. She might need bone marrow someday, he told himself. She might need a kidney. Also there was the fact that Claire loved her uncle. "

Reviewed by Sara Crowley

This collection of 11 stories is threaded throughout with an exploration of some of the many disappointments life can offer. It appears to be a look at how we all potentially fail each other – parents - their children, lovers - one another, children - their parents, and so it goes.

The opening story is Travis, B. Awkward misfit Chet Moran drifts into an adult education night class and falls for the teacher, Beth Travis. Beth has found herself in the awkward position of having to drive for nine and a half hours to teach the class, and then drive back to her day job. It's an untenable set-up and sets the tone for the collection. Even Chet's attempt to woo her feels half-hearted.

Chet is the first of Meloy's male protagonists; just three of the stories have main characters that are female. The men here are basically good guys, but they want more. Meloy doesn't show us simple black and white, right and wrong, her characters are complex, their desires are muddled. In The Children Fielding "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."

Age doesn't stop these male hearts capacity from pining and longing for the love of a woman. In Agustin feelings are reawakened when the title character re-encounters his lost love, Inez Martin.
"There were lines around the dark eyes he had loved, and the skin over her temples seemed very thin and pale, with a blue vein visible on one side, but she had the same pointed chin, the same clever mouth. His heart was racing. He hadn't expected to have all the old feelings in their full strength. He had thought they would be diminished by time."
In Two-Step although the story is told by Naomi and is set in her friend Alice's kitchen, it is Alice's nameless husband who looms large and dominates. "I thought he was a genius when I married him." "It's him…" "He's coming home." "He likes you…" "He had the intelligence that physically beautiful people have, because other people confide in them, but he had real intelligence, too. It was irresistible, even when he was acting indefensibly, as he was now." A slightly predictable story is made fascinating as we watch the characters react in unexpected ways.

The titles of the stories are simple and clear, as are the narratives. Travis, B is about Beth Travis; Lovely Rita is about a woman called Rita; Liliana and Agustin are about Liliana and Agustin. The Girlfriend is the girlfriend of a criminal; O Tannenbaum is ostensibly about the procurement of a Christmas tree.

Nine begins with "When Valentine was nine, her mother's new lover took them one night to a bonfire the college kids had at the lake." And goes on to explore not only the mother's relationship with her new lover, Carlo, but also Valentine's first kiss and first crush. There is great economy in the telling and things left unsaid are as important as those spoken.

Simplicity and tenderness are this collections strengths and Meloy uses both to dig deep into the human psyche and reveal those human moments of wanting it all, the wife and the lover, the money and the dignity, the family and the peace. It is only after finishing all the stories that one sees how fitting a title Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It is.

Read a story from this collection on

Sara Crowley 's novel in progress - Salted - was chosen as one of the four finalists in the Faber/Book Tokens Not Yet Published Award, and she is the winner of Waterstone's 2009 Bookseller's Bursary. Her short stories have won prizes and been published in many lovely places.

Sara's other Short Reviews: Miranda July "No-one Belongs Here More Than You"

Alison McLeod "Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction"

Zadie Smith (ed) "The Book of Other People"

Neil Smith "Bang Crunch"

Dave Housley "Ryan Seacrest is Famous"

Jen Michalski "Close Encounters"

Adam Maxwell "Dial M for Monkey"

Janine Bullman (ed) "Punk Fiction"
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