Simple, plain, and descriptively precise. These are just some of the words that describe Maile Meloy’s writing style in Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. Before reading this collection of short stories, I’d almost forgotten that good writing is simple. Effortless. (Hemingway comes to mind.) Twenty six letters are deftly pushed around to work their magic. Technique, hopefully, retreats before the things that are imagined. Landscapes appear; scenes unfold; people want things and don’t want things; and sometimes the wanting and not wanting happen in the same person, at the same time—titles are useful clues after all. Yes, Meloy’s writing is simple. I’m tempted to say undemanding, but that can be viewed as a deficiency in this our post-modern age of technique and hyper-consciousness. But why balk at the obvious? Her fiction is undemanding. There are no syntactically challenging sentences. Shelves are “white” and dishes “green” and “blue.” Walls are “pale yellow.” Narratives advance briskly. A protagonist is born, gets polio at age seven and turns 14 in just a few paragraphs. Conflicts are introduced with clear but subtle queues like “…he was big in the chest and arms,” signaling the importance of physicality in a story about sexual desire or the threat of violence, or both. While all these elements of Meloy’s writing are good, I scratch my head over the vanishingly few metaphors she employs in Both Ways. When they do make an appearance, they’re quite basic, even pedestrian. “She looked like a Russian doll” or “They were bound like two dogs with their tails tied together….” Fortunately, a few buck the trend like this one: the bullet “was copper-cased, splayed out in a blossom of dull lead where the tip had been.” Blossom, very nice. Although Meloy’s writing is simple and undemanding, she uses it very well to stay faithful to things and people and the ambivalence, errancy and complexities of desire. See how smoothly I’ve introduced the term complexity? Genius is to limn it elegantly as Meloy does.
meloy wants her simplicity and eats her complexity too