After reading Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, I wanted to read everything Maile Meloy has ever written. “Everything” isn’t all that much, though, so even though I’ve had Half in Love on my shelf for a few months now, I took my time reading it. You only get to read a book once for the first time!
I loved this collection, although admittedly not as much as the other. There were individual stories that rank at the top of my all-time list, but also a few that didn’t leave much of an impression on me. The one story that slayed me was “Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976,” about four people–two couples–who in some ways were actually six couples, we learn after one of the four dies. The story is subtle, so sad, and absolutely beautiful. One of my favorite realizations about it was that Meloy wrote another story about these same people, set years in the future, that I read in the New Yorker.
A story called “The River” also employs combinations and recombinations of people, this time a man and his younger wife, who might be dying, and their healthy, lovely friend. It’s a devastating story because Meloy, through very simple language, makes the reader feel all three character’s motivations, even though we are only narratively close to the man. He sees the situation all too clearly. Another writer might have chosen to keep him more in the dark about his wife’s conspiring, so the reader is privy to more than he. But we understand what he does, worry like he does. It’s an embarrassing closeness and it really works.
In “Thirteen and a Half,” the story starts out in the close third person p.o.v. of Gina, whose eighth grade daughter is getting ready for a dance, uninhibited by a cast on her leg earned after a reckless leap out of a tree. It is suffused with a mother’s awe at the behavior of teenagers as well as her preemptive nostalgia for the time. She learns that somewhere in the area, there is another teenager, a boy, on the loose with a gun. Other events transpire and the story ends with a swoop into the daughter’s p.o.v.: a daring move that I can’t believe Meloy pulls off, but does she ever.
The stories that worked less well for me were the ones that happened outside of Montana or other locals in the American West–one in Paris, one in Greece, one in wartime London. These, like another story–my least favorite–about an ice cutter, felt like exercises rather than lived-in stories. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the last story in the collection, “A Stake Horse,” which is a bit too reliant on the American West–without a working familiarity of horse-racing, I felt lost in the story and oblivious to the drama and difficulty that was obviously there.
Meloy also pulls off a story in which the protagonist dies–I’ve rarely seen that done before (“Bullet in the Brain” comes to mind). She is a daring and brilliant writer. I’ll read one of her novels next!