Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

Acclaimed author Maile Meloy's Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It finds women disenchanted, disempowered, and hindered by the worlds they live inside.

Montana-bred, L.A.-based Maile Meloy has more worldly, cool credentials than most young writers—she’s in demand at The New Yorker, Granta, and The Paris Review; she’s a Guggenheim fellow with abundant awards and prizes; her kid brother is Decemberist Colin Meloy. But the short stories in her second collection are set deep in disempowered, rural alienation. Characters leading isolated lives in awkward circumstances are brought vividly into focus by her spot-on command of dialogue and tone. Abandonment and infidelity pervade; the girls in these stories are tantalized by their own desires but can’t negotiate the ways of men, and adult women are bound by the disappointing bargains they have struck.

Unfortunately for me, Meloy’s otherwise excellent work is too much from the perspective of other, male characters, predominantly of a creepy middle-aged variety. I felt tricked by the title of this collection, which seemed an interestingly bratty take on second-wave “having it all,” when in fact it’s from a (man’s) poem evoked by male characters in two separate stories, fantasizing about sexual access to both their wives and other women.

I know it’s a strength for any writer to speak convincingly from the perspective of dissimilar beings—especially since Meloy’s work intentionally toys with autobiographical elements—but in this collection, it feels at the expense of rendering female consciousness. Too many of the women characters are not given voice. There’s plenty enough fiction like that by men already, thanks.