Tag Archives: short stories

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

Who?

  • Short story lovers.
  • Those who like current American literature

The Book:

I was interested in the hype around this book, and Maile Meloy is an awesome handle ( I often have a quirky reason for being interested in a book). This book was also on a few recommendation lists (here, and here). Both Ways is the Only Way I Like It may be an awkward name, but it’s not an awkward read. This collection of short stories feels very American. (I’ll explain later) I generally focus my attention on Canadian literature, mainly because I enjoy it more and there is usually less online about them. While reading this book, I felt like I was peeking into a different culture in a way I wouldn’t have expected. The stories are all set somewhere in Middle America.

The stories centre on the theme of parents and children. Or, more broadly, being responsible or irresponsible. My favorite story was the first one, about a crippled polio cowboy who is in love with a woman from a random encounter. I also enjoyed the story about a man whose wealthy grandmother shows up on his doorstep after being dead for a month. The characters were decent, and the plots concrete.

I didn’t love the book, and I didn’t hate it either. What I couldn’t really figure out was why it was listed as a best seller for so long. What made it so popular? Her name? The Americans’ great love of short stories?

Meloy’s narrative was too similar for each character. The only truly memorable ones were the two I mentioned (in my humble opinion). It felt like I was reading 11 different life plots for the same character.

But certainly, the themes of the short stories held my attention, and as the title suggests, show the incongruent feelings that lie beneath us: how we want to be the child and the parent. We want to inherit money from people we don’t like, but we don’t want to pretend we like them. We want to have wild, surprising sex, but we don’t want to hurt our spouses and have an affair. We want to be protected, but also independent. Meloy did well to show this commonality. I don’t know, it might just be an American thing – like the unabashed love of processed cheese ( just kiddin’).

Cheers!


Like this?

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The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

Who?

Well, to be honest, I had a hard time classifying this book. I think it would be liked by a wide range of people. Just keep reading and see if anything sparks your interest.

The Book:

I just found a treasure!

For years now, I have been trying to write short stories. I have a bit of a collection under my belt now, but I don’t really love any of them.  It is completely logical, because I don’t like short stories. I would rather read a nice long novel and fall into love (or hate) while I become entwined in the characters. Short stories are just too brief to get to know someone. But, the short stories in this collection by Tom Rachman are delightfully short. Every one of them!

Rachman was shortlisted for the Giller Prize this year for The Imperfectionists. This book was easy to read and reminded me of a good BBC miniseries. It is about the last dying days of an English language newspaper set up in Rome. After being in print publication for decades, the newspaper is shutting down.  Each chapter is about a person involved in some way with the paper. Each chapter is also a different narrative and could stand alone as an individual short story. The book feels real. The plot is held together well and is clear and cohesive. It is lighthearted and soft, yet in the same moment I felt as close and intimate with the cast of characters as if I’d spent weeks reading the book (instead of two days). Each of the character’s feelings and their human drama were palpable and beautifully realized. Rachman could teach me a thing or two about character building! Wowzers!

This is Tom Rachman’s first book, although he has been a journalist for years. He brought to life a cast of characters using only a few thousand words for each, this fact immensely impressed me. Also, that one week after finishing the book, I can still recall very clearly almost all of the people in the novel and many of their idiosyncrasies.  Did I mention that I was impressed with Rachman’s talent?

There were moments while deep in the prose, that struck me as simple and profound at the same time.  He wrote one woman in an airplane meeting a potential love interest, and he writes her so well I swear he must have asked a woman exactly what goes through her mind. He nailed it right down to that feeling of being in that space. I am looking forward to reading his next work.

This book would make a great Christmas gift for someone who likes fiction, but not long fiction. It is well written and a quick read, but it is woven with non-fiction newspaper headlines from 2008.  Here is the link on Amazon!

I have a confession to make as well. Another reason I LOVED this book is because of this:

Hayden's Brooding Intensity
Tom Rachman's Brooding Intensity

This is a picture of Hayden (left) beside the author of The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman. I think they look a lot alike. Every time I glanced upon the back of the novel, I would see those big bedroom eyes and think of Hayden, who I adore.

And so, I leave you with Barely Friends, my favorite song from Hayden’s 2008 album In Field and Town, because I am a shameless Hayden promoter.