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Maile Meloy’s stories, mostly set in Montana, are studies of people caught between conflicting desires or in unsustainable moments. The plots are pretty minimalist, focused less on “what happens” than on what goes on in the minds of the protagonists. A shy young man is drawn to a teacher whose long commute makes romance effectively impossible. A man antagonized by his adult younger brother on a ski vacation discovers that peace between them may require conflict. A girl develops an attraction to the son of her mother’s boyfriend, even as it becomes clear that the boyfriend isn’t a keeper, which raises questions about what we learn from our parents about relationships. A woman must comfort her friend, who has guessed that her husband is cheating on her, but not that the protagonist is the other woman -- and what happens when the husband comes in the door? In the most chilling piece, a man confronts the girlfriend of the teenager who raped and murdered his daughter, and learns something he might have been better off not knowing.
For the most part, these are stories where Meloy constructs some finely-balanced tensions, then leaves the reader at the tipping point, to contemplate what must happen next, or at least the implications of what must be realized. I wouldn’t have minded a little more variety to the themes (many are about infidelity, jealousy, and selfishness), but Meloy is a skilled writer, insinuating the charged emotions of a moment with just a few words, then leaving the fuse to burn down in the reader’s mind. Those who appreciate finely-tuned short fiction that eschews stylistic flourishes will probably enjoy this compact collection.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I heard the last story in this collection, "O Tannenbaum" on a podcast and found it so moving I immediately used an Audible credit to get the entire audiobook. I was not disappointed.
The stories are primarily set in the American West, and primarily character-driven portraits of desire and eventuality. They are at times somehow cinematic, and I daydreamed about making them into a series. Apparently this has already been done - a movie has, anyway - and I look forward to seeing it.
But I prefer audio, and it is for books like this. Warm, personal portraits perfectly tailored for audio. The reading performances, both male and female, are excellent. The only miss was mispronouncing the author's name at the very end of the book, which was more funny than anything.