“What kind of fool only wanted it one way?” — Struck by Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

He was doomed to ambivalence and desire. A braver man, or a more cowardly one, would simply flee. A happier or more complacent man would stay and revel in the familiar, wrap it around him like an old bathrobe. He seemed to be none of those things, and could only deceive the people he loved, and then disappoint and worry them when they saw through him. There was a poem Meg had brought home from college, with the line ‘Both ways is the only way I want it.’ The force with which he wanted it both ways made him grit his teeth. What kind of fool only wanted it one way? [From “The Children.”]

Ever since I saw this post on Fiction Writers Review, I’ve been hankering for my own copy of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy. Ya know that feeling you get when you just know that book’s for you. That’s what I felt. Me and my penchant for vaguely titled short story collections. [And so many thanks to my Tita Bong for giving me this book — hardcover yumminess — when she visited from Japan.]

There’s nothing to say, really — nothing review-y, that is. Or, rather, there’s so much I want to say — I want to go over each and every story, disassemble it, hold the pieces up against the light, and just blab, blab, blab. I want to point to this paragraph and say, “That’s what I felt fifteen months ago.” I want to pinch a centimeter’s worth of pages and say, “Now, this is now.”

Oh, they’re essentially good stories — Meloy knows her way around the craft. But the heart! The characters! Their words! Yes, yes, all that. But it was deeply personal. This was my book. From that title on the shiny cover to the very last page. Words like: All the while, Everett felt both the threat of disorder and the steady, thrumming promise of having everything he wanted, all at once. True, Everett. True, Maile. True, everything. Meloy bunked inside of me without me knowing it, and took notes, and said it all so wonderfully well and earnest, and true true true.

Loved this collection, yes — it’s one of my favorites for the year, forever. It’s goddamned good, there’s no way around it. I just sank into it when I read it, and it hasn’t let go. Ah, people caught at crossroads, people wanting it both ways. Is good. Ah, authors saying it better than I ever could. Is verra verra good.

I’m shutting up now, and shall lead you to more eloquent people:

  • Zoë just reviewed this book over at her blog. She makes great comparisons between this book and Deborah Willis’ Vanishing and Other Stories — coinkidinkally, we both read the two books one after the other. Her observations are spot-on, even though it was only until she pointed out the similarities that I started noticing them.
  • I agree with everything in Judith Shulevitz’ review at The Slate.
  • Kevin says, “She is a realist, but that is not her strength — it is the curves that she plants in her realism (and there is often more than one in any given story) that make her work so seductive.”
  • And a winning endorsement from Trevor: “This is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read.”

I might just tattoo both ways is the only way i want it somewhere. Down my spine. Up my forearm. Around my left calf. Right at the center of my palm.

12 thoughts on ““What kind of fool only wanted it one way?” — Struck by Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

  1. It such a special moment when you know from the very beginning that a book you’re reading was meant for you. It doesn’t matter how many others love it, they can never love it like you did, it could never touch them the way it did you. I love when that happens.

  2. Thanks for linking to me, I appreciate it and your thoughtful comment. I definitely agree with what you said, although I certainly leaned more towards Willis of the two books, I did read them one right after the other, which didn’t seem like a problem at the time but isn’t something I would recommend- I do think it probably impacted how I viewed the Meloy. Despite that, I did love it, and I even splurged and ordered a copy of her earlier collection Half Love since it’s on long term loan from the library. I can’t wait to see how it compares- I had never heard of Meloy before but then I started hearing positive things everywhere and she definitely deserves the recognition.

    P.S. you got the accents on my name, love.

    1. Ya know, I agree with so much of your reading of Willis and Meloy, and Meloy especially. That thing about mentioning the poem at the end, I mentioned that in your blog, I thought it was unnecessary — but it’s blind love, I’m stubborn, haha. I know that if I read them one after the other as you did, I’d have come to the same conclusion. *hifive* Haha. :p [The bookstores here only have copies of her novels — I’ll eventually order them from Book Depository.] Also, since I’m reading mostly short stories this month, I’m more conscious about picking books to read that have as distinct themes as possible. But, then again, my taste dictates that I gravitate toward certain subjects and writing styles, so . . .

      PS – It does have the accents, right? I checked your blog. :]

      1. Yup it does have the accents, I was just impressed because people don’t usually bother.

        Thanks for the positive feedback! Your blog has really inspired my reading and reviewing process; I’m trying to get a bit more indepth with my reviews although I’m not a big notetaker so it’s still mostly what’s left in my head afterwards.

        1. Thanks, Zoe [see, I don’t know how to put the accents in the comment box, haha] — Although I kept a notebook for the longest time, just recording a couple of lines’ worth of reactions to the books I read, it wasn’t until over a year ago that I could meld the note-taking and the reading seamlessly. I still not write as I read though — sometimes the book’s too good, or the book doesn’t inspire me to take notes — and I have to scramble with what’s left in my head afterwards, haha.

  3. When I first started reading Liars and Saints I was a little ho-hum about it, but then decided that was just a case of her making it “look easy” because that novel was just terrific too. Not that anything will stand up to your First Love experience with her prose in this collection I’m sure.

    1. It does seem to be like that, no? The first experience with an author? There are exceptions of course — I hated Carver when I first read him, haha. Maybe I shouldn’t generalize too much. :] But I will read her novels, and her other collection. But Both Ways will definitely hold a special place in my heart.


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