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.