Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it

Thomas Jones writes:

Short stories can often seem unduly coercive of both their characters and their readers, forcing them to jump through too many hoops in too little time. Annie Proulx, for example, to whose Wyoming tales some of Meloy’s Montana stories bear a superficial resemblance, can take too much relish in whipping her characters down unlikely paths of misfortune and humiliation. (Pressganging them into happy endings wouldn’t be any better.) But Meloy, for the most part, avoids this problem: her stories are pleasingly unrestrictive. It’s almost as if the characters have just dropped in on the stories, like Liliana arriving unannounced on her grandson’s doorstep, or as if the reader has just dropped in for a while on the characters’ lives. In ‘Two-Step’, a woman tells a friend that she thinks her husband is having an affair. He is, as it happens, with the person she is confiding in. (Infidelity, both real and imagined, two different ways of having it both ways, provides the dramatic impetus for a number of the stories.) ‘Two-Step’ doesn’t tell you how these two women came to be in the kitchen together, having this conversation, how they came to be friends in the first place, or what will happen next. Many of Meloy’s stories, in other words, read like fragments of novels, while at the same time being complete in themselves – which is yet another way of having it both ways.

(LRB 2 December 2010)

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