Half-thoughts on Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

I had suspected a while back that Maile Meloy’s short story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It was exactly the kind of “program fiction” I would like, and after Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes gushed about it over the summer I said, “Boom! It will be mine!” It was, and I brought it with me to Yellowstone, thinking it would be very location-appropriate, but there wasn’t actually a lot of reading time involved in that vacation.

Like Trevor, my favorite story in the collection was the first one, “Travis, B.” Do read his post for an excellent description of why it’s so great. After that, and closely tied with “Red from Green,” “Lovely Rita” really struck my fancy. Its combination of place—a place in danger of changing, of pollution—local people down on their luck, union workers building the facility that will alter their home, and one man’s good fortune turning sour adds up to the kind of regionally-oriented whole I like. And while Meloy never makes the East-meets-West in her stories feel cheap and silly, there’s something less tense about the ones where the West is more self-contained.

But while I liked this collection a lot, loved reading it, want to read more of Meloy’s work, etc., that “program fiction” remark is not just snark. I don’t really think it is “dull but beautiful,” but shouldn’t I have more to say about it other than how lovely it is to read, how solid the sentences are, how fine the stories? Let’s just assume that it isn’t solely my own inarticulateness or lack of thoughtfulness. “These stories are lovely, and they are about people I enjoy reading about in a location I enjoy reading about.” But with regional literature, is this closer to what we are looking for? Does this in fact count as regional literature? (Many people in the comments on Trevor’s post think so.)

The place and the people, that sounds pretty good to me. Chet Moran, of “Travis, B.,” and the nine-hour drive he makes across Montana so he can see once more the girl who’s gotten tired of her nine-hour commute. He’s about my age but he had polio as a child. He spends the winter alone with the snow and the livestock. I love that story—what am I complaining about?

4 comments to Half-thoughts on Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

  • Lovely, both this, “It was, and I brought it with me to Yellowstone…” and your comments on the stories. Trevor’s summer (and winter) geyser-gushing influenced me, too. Now I just need to get a copy of the book! Best, Kevin

  • Your “program fiction” comments are enough to make me shy away from reading this, Nicole, even though like Kevin, the lovely things you say should actually make feel drawn to it. Good thing my TBR and book-buying habits (latest purchase: 15 minutes ago!) are too out of control to make me waste time reflecting on my own inexplicable prejudices toward program fiction…esp. since I think I rarely encounter it in my own reading life, all truth be told.

  • Kevin, thanks, and shoot me an email if you would like my copy (warning: from a smoking household).

    Richard—The post I linked to at Pechorin’s Journal notes that “By temperament, experience and if I’m honest prejudice I’m inclined towards Batuman’s [anti-program-fiction] argument” — as am I. It also notes that, more than with some other genre-related prejudices, there is a good chance of missing out on things the blogger will really love. Again, I have the same problem. I shy away from huge amounts of contemporary fiction, not always for the better. One of my reading challengers just nudged me toward two new books that I totally loved, for example.

    Also, I’m glad someone else has book-buying habits as out of control as mine.

  • Oh I had no idea you had read this. I never picked up a copy of it, but I did read Liars and Saints not really expecting too much from it, but I loved it and went straight out and bought A Family Daughter when I finished. I recommend them both.