Sunday, August 8, 2010

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It - Maile Meloy

Each year, the New York Times publishes its lists of the Best Books of the Year - which always includes five fiction selections and five non-fiction selections. If I haven't already (which I usually haven't), I try to read through the fiction picks, and if the non-fiction ones are on topics I find remotely interesting, I'll read those too. This collection of short stories made the list for 2009, along with Lethem's Chronic City, Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, Walls's Half-Broke Horses, and Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women (the only selection I could not get through). I have a fascination with short stories - on the one hand, I find them frustrating because I often wish they were turned into full length novels so I could learn more about the characters, on the other hand, I find an author's ability to say so much in such a short space incredibly inspiring. Most of the time, however, given the short space, I find that authors try too hard to be shocking, or to imitate the O.Henry twist, or to do something other than simply tell me a story. Meloy has avoided all these pitfalls, and created an entire book filled with characters I wanted to know more about. I particularly enjoyed a story about a young man in Montana who develops a crush over dinner at a diner with a commuting teacher, and another involving a married man's conflict over whether to leave his wife for his children's former swim instructor. Many of the stories are about love and loss, typical themes in stories that I enjoy, but Meloy manages to create realistic dialogue, actions and reactions. Definitely a collection that kept me reading "just one more."

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