The collection starts off strongly with short stories that are beautiful and effective in two respects: first, the capacity of the writer, Maile Meloy, to wind up the reader into restlessness and tension. You can't put your finger on it, but something makes you worry about the characters and what happens next.
Second, her mastery of short, economically built, yet powerful descriptions. One description in particular - and this is subjective - made me stir with pleasure, it was such a feast for the senses: "He took the fat plastic bag of oats from his jacket pocket and held it open. The horse sniffed at it, then worked the oats out of the bag with his lips. 'That's all I got,' he said, shoving the empty plastic bag back in his pocket. The horse lifted its head to sniff at the strange town smells."
Have you ever fed a horse? You don't need any more than what she writes to conjure images and senses: the oats lifting lightly under the horse's warm breath; the velvety, distrusting muzzle; the way, once it has established it's good to eat, it gently grabs the oats with the tips of its lips. Its disappointment when it's over.
In the same way, elsewhere, the writer builds up tension not through what she says, but through what she *doesn't* say.
This said, the internal deliberations of characters wanting it "both ways" were less convincing to me. The short story is too short a format for meaningful and strong questions on what to choose to be properly developed. The first few short stories are bare and subdued; the subsequent ones become more domestic and a bit more literal in trying to explore the issue in title of the collection. I personally can't be bothered with men who want both the wife and the mistress; especially when the writer takes these men seriously and when, as I was saying, we aren't given sufficient 'time' with the character so to get to feel that tension of the "both ways is the only way"....Continua