I remember reading Maile Meloy’s book Half In Love and thinking, why hadn’t I read MM in my MFA program? Everything about her was clear—her voice, her sentence structure, her depiction of the modern American West; she was the epitome of a short story, to me at least. Her stories were real, and they made me sit on my bed and try to understand what half in love really meant.
In November, The New Yorker ran “Demeter” a story by MM that rekindled my love. I went to my shelf in search of Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, only to discover that I bought the paperback not once, but in my book hording ways twice. I called my best friend to ask if she would like to read it with me*, but I couldn’t wait. It was like a Christmas gift come early. I had to read it. **
So here I am. A week before Christmas thinking about the collection and fixating on the title Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. Things I want(ed): the book to last longer, to grow up and be an astronaut, world peace, sanity, a child. Things Santa would never be able to fit in his sleigh.
Sometimes we get what we want.
Sometimes we don’t.
This is a book filled with characters who sometimes know what they want and sometimes don’t, who sometimes get it and sometimes don’t. One is left to examine what happens when a character actually breaks the rule of having it both ways, receiving everything they wanted. One is left to wonder what else they gain, what else they lose. I know that sounds vague, but imagine a world in which you get everything you want. Now imagine a world in which you get nothing you want. That’s what it is like to read Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It; a torture of up and down after which one wanders back to this world dazed and moved.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, a Joyful Winter Solstice, a Happy Hanukkah, a Super Kwanzaa, and a Fun Boxing Day. In short, Happy Holidays. Try not to get caught up in thinking about the things you want this year, and focus instead on what you have. Leave the wanting to MM, for she does it so well.
*Our attempts at book clubs always fail. We tried to read Don Quixote together, but after ordering it from Amazon and realizing it was nearly 1000 pages, well, let’s just say she’s the only one who started it.
**Sorry M! See first footnote.