Review: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, stories, by Maile Meloy

I seriously need to get out of short story land. I think part of my problem is that I LOVE covers. I'm constantly judging books by their covers because THAT'S WHAT THE COVERS ARE FOR! Thousands of artists, graphic artists and designers and editors go to school and study to create the most enticing covers. It's only right that I give them their due. I haunt the Book Cover Archive looking for new, interesting-looking books all the time. Does that mean that they ARE interesting? No. But what if they *are*?

Maile Meloy's newest collection of short stories does not, unfortunately, match its cover (which features an out-of-focus pile of beautiful, intricate crystalline snowflakes) either in beauty or complexity. The title is taken from a poem by A. R. Ammon which consists of a single sentence reading:

One can't
have it

both ways
and both

ways is
the only

way I
want it.

While I'm sure Meloy found her inspiration in this brief but universal utterance, her collection of stories read more like the result of a prompt than inspiration. All of these stories revolve around a character who strives towards a goal which is seemingly mutually exclusive of all other options, but finds that a second option is almost just tempting enough to sway them. In a few cases, both options are entirely possible together, depending on the nature of the focal character.

While some of the stories--I think specifically of "Lilliana" in which the assumed-dead grandmother's dead-pan (no pun intended) honesty is humorous and refreshing--have characters worth their weight in ink, the majority of the tales are too predictable. Whether it's the distant daughter in "Red from Green" or cheating husband Fielding in "The Children," it's the same. In knowing the prompt, you already know half of the problem, so that once you get around to hearing the whole story, you've already half-constructed a solution for them in your mind, and your sympathy for them has been replaced with frustration.


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