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Ten of the stories take place in the modern American West, and in Meloy's unsentimental vision this world becomes vivid and unexpected. In her ...
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Ten of the stories take place in the modern American West, and in Meloy's unsentimental vision this world becomes vivid and unexpected. In her story "Tome," the disabled client of a Montana lawyer takes a Samoan football player hostage. In "Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976," two young couples, bound by a complicated friendship, face a complicated grief when one of the four dies. The college-bound daughter of a ranch foreman, in "Ranch Girl," has to choose which adult world she wants to occupy. And in "A Stakes Horse," a young woman deals with risk and loss, both at the racetrack and at home. In small towns and in isolated country, these characters face violence and dread and betrayal, love and loss of love and the ease with which life can be disrupted — all rendered in Meloy's clear, assured style.
Other stories in the collection take us to different times and places with the same remarkable skill and intuition. In "Red," a young American soldier in World War II encounters an English girl exhausted by the Blitz. Guests in a Greek villa, looking for gossip in "Last of the White Slaves," find a more disconcerting story than they wanted. And in "Aqua Boulevard" — winner of the 2001 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction — an elderly Parisian confronts his fear of death. Meloy's command of her characters' voices is breathtaking; their fears and desires are deftly illuminated.
Meloy's characters inevitably stand on the edge of something — of discovery or decision or change — and Meloy delivers these moments with a stirring combination of authority and sympathy. This is a voice of astonishing clarity and unforgettable emotional power.
A sparkling debut.
Maile Meloy is a truly compelling discovery.
The New York Times Book Review
There are times when a writer nails a story the way a diver nails a dive....Half in Love offers up both plain speaking and mystery,
subtlety and shock. That hole in the water marks where the final plunge of a story took your heart along with it.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Tremendously beautiful. A writer not of promise, but with a fully realized gift.
If you're white, and you're not rich or poor but somewhere in the middle, it's hard to have worse luck than to be born a girl on a ranch. It doesn't matter if your dad's the foreman or the rancher — you're still a ranch girl, and you've been dealt a bad hand.
If you're the foreman's daughter on Ted Haskell's Running H cattle ranch, you live in the foreman's house, on the dirt road between Haskell's place and the barn. There are two bedrooms with walls made of particleboard, one bathroom (no tub), muddy boots and jackets in the living room, and a kitchen that's never used. No one from school ever visits the ranch, so you can keep your room the way you decorated it at ten: a pink comforter, horse posters on the walls, plastic horse models on the shelves. Outside there's an old cow-dog with a ruined hip, a barn cat who sleeps in the rafters, and, until he dies, a runt calf named Minute, who cries at night by the front door.
You help your dad when the other hands are busy: wading after him into an irrigation ditch, or rounding up a stray cow-calf pair when you get home from school. Your mom used to help, too — she sits a horse better than any of the hands — but then she took an office job in town, and bought herself a house to be close to work. That was the story, anyway; she hasn't shown up at the ranch since junior high. Your dad works late now, comes home tired and opens a beer. You bring him cheese and crackers, and watch him fall asleep in his chair.
Down the road, at the ranch house, Ted Haskell grills steaks from his cows every night. He's been divorced for years, but he's never learned how to cook anything except steak. Whenever you're there with Haskell's daughter Carla, who's in your class at school, Haskell tries to get you to stay for dinner. He says you're too thin and a good beefsteak will make you strong. But you don't like Haskell's teasing, and you don't like leaving your dad alone, so you walk home hungry.
When you're sixteen, Haskell's ranch house is the best place to get ready to go out at night. Carla has her own bathroom, with a big mirror, where you curl your hair into ringlets and put on blue eye shadow. You and Carla wear matching Wranglers, and when it gets cold you wear knitted gloves with rainbow-striped fingers that the boys love to look at when they get drunk out on the Hill.
The Hill is the park where everyone stands and talks after they get bored driving their cars in circles on the drag. The cowboys are always out on the Hill, and there's a fight every night; on a good night, there are five or six. On a good night, someone gets slid across the asphalt on his back, T-shirt riding up over his bare skin. It doesn't matter what the fights are about — no one ever knows — it just matters that Andy Tyler always wins. He's the one who slides the other guy into the road. Afterward, he gets casual, walks over with his cowboy-boot gait, takes a button from the school blood drive off his shirt and reads it aloud: "'I Gave Blood Today,'" he says. "Looks like you did, too." Then he pins the button to the other guy's shirt. He puts his jean jacket back on and hides a beer inside it, his hand tucked in like Napoleon's, and smiles his invincible smile.
"Hey," he says. "Do that rainbow thing again."
You wave your gloved hands in fast arcs, fingers together so the stripes line up.
Andy laughs, and grabs your hands, and says, "Come home and fuck me."
But you don't. You walk away. And Andy leaves the Hill without saying good-bye, and rolls his truck in a ditch for the hundredth time, but a buddy of his dad's always tows him, and no one ever calls the cops.
Virginity is as important to rodeo boys as to Catholics, and you don't go home and fuck Andy Tyler because when you finally get him, you want to keep him. But you like his asking. Some nights, he doesn't ask. Some nights, Lacey Estrada climbs into Andy's truck, dark hair bouncing in soft curls on her shoulders, and moves close to Andy on the front seat as they drive away. Lacey's dad is a doctor, and she lives in a big white house where she can sneak Andy into her bedroom without waking anyone up. But cowboys are romantics; when they settle down they want the girl they haven't fucked.
When Haskell marries an ex-hippie, everyone on the ranch expects trouble. Suzy was a beauty once; now she's on her third husband and doesn't take any shit. Suzy reads tarot cards, and when she lays them out to answer the question of Andy Tyler, the cards say to hold out for him.
On the spring cattle drive, you show Suzy how to ride behind the mob and stay out of the dust. Suzy talks about her life before Haskell: she has a Ph.D. in anthropology, a police record for narcotics possession, a sorority pin and a ski-bum son in Jackson Hole. She spent her twenties throwing dinner parties for her first husband's business clients — that, she says, was her biggest mistake — and then the husband ran off with one of her sorority sisters. She married a Buddhist next. "Be interesting in your twenties," Suzy says. "Otherwise you'll want to do it in your thirties or forties, when it wreaks all kinds of havoc, and you've got a husband and kids."
You listen to Suzy and say nothing. What's wrong with a husband and children? A sweet guy, a couple of brown-armed kids running around outside — it wouldn't be so bad.
There's a fall cattle drive, too, but no one ever wants to come on it. It's cold in November, and the cows have scattered in the national forest. They're half wild from being out there for months, especially the calves, who are stupid as only calves can be. The cowboys have disappeared, gone back to college or off on binges or other jobs. So you go out with your dad and Haskell, sweating in heavy coats as you chase down the calves, fighting the herd back to winter pasture before it starts to snow. But it always snows before you finish, and your dad yells at you when your horse slips on the wet asphalt and scrapes itself up.
In grade school, it's okay to do well. But by high school, being smart gives people ideas. Science teachers start bugging you in the halls. They say Eastern schools have Montana quotas, places for ranch girls who are good at math. You could get scholarships, they say. But you know, as soon as they suggest it, that if you went to one of those schools you'd still be a ranch girl — not the Texas kind, who are debutantes and just happen to have a ranch in the family, and not the horse-farm kind, who ride English. Horse people are different, because horses are elegant and clean. Cows are mucusy, muddy, shitty, slobbery things, and it takes another kind of person to live with them. Even your long curled hair won't help at a fancy college, because prep-school girls don't curl their hair. The rodeo boys like it, but there aren't any rodeo boys out East. So you come up with a plan: you have two and a half years of straight A's, and you have to flunk quietly, not to draw attention. Western Montana College, where Andy Tyler wants to go, will take anyone who applies. You can live cheap in Dillon, and if things don't work out with Andy you already know half the football team.
When rodeo season begins, the boys start skipping school. You'd skip, too, but the goal is to load up on D's, not to get kicked out or sent into counseling. You paint your nails in class and follow the rodeo circuit on weekends. Andy rides saddle bronc, but his real event is bull riding. The bull riders have to be a little crazy, and Andy Tyler is. He's crazy in other ways, too: two years of asking you to come home and fuck him have made him urgent about it. You dance with him at the all-night graduation party, and he catches you around the waist and says he doesn't know a more beautiful girl. At dawn, he leaves for spring rodeo finals in Reno, driving down with his best friend, Rick Marcille, and you go to Country Kitchen for breakfast in a happy fog, order a chocolate shake and think about dancing with Andy. Then you fall asleep on Carla's bedroom floor, watching cartoons, too tired to make it down the road to bed.
Andy calls once from Reno, at 2 A.M., and you answer the phone before it wakes your dad. Andy's taken second place in the bull riding and won a silver belt buckle and three thousand dollars. He says he'll take you to dinner at the Grub Stake when he gets home. Rick Marcille shouts "Ro-day-o" in the background.
There's a call the next night, too, but it's from Rick Marcille's dad. Rick and Andy rolled the truck somewhere in Idaho, and the doctors don't think Rick will make it, though Andy might. Mr. Marcille sounds angry that Andy's the one who's going to live, but he offers to drive you down there. You don't wake your dad; you just go.
The doctors are wrong; it's Andy who doesn't make it. When you get to Idaho, he's already dead. Rick Marcille is paralyzed from the neck down. The cops say the boys weren't drinking, that a wheel came loose and the truck just rolled, but you guess the cops are just being nice. It's your turn to be angry, at Mr. Marcille, because his son will live and Andy is dead. But when you leave the hospital, Mr. Marcille falls down on his knees, squeezing your hand until it hurts.
At Andy's funeral, his uncle's band plays, and his family sets white doves free. One won't go, and it hops around the grass at your feet. The morning is already hot and blue, and there will be a whole summer of days like this to get through.
Andy's obituary says he was engaged to Lacey Estrada, which only Lacey or her doctor father could have put in. If you had the guts, you'd buy every paper in town and burn them outside the big white house where Lacey took him home and fucked him. Then Lacey shows up on the Hill with an engagement ring and gives you a sad smile as if you've shared something. If you were one of the girls who gets in fights on the Hill, you'd fight Lacey. But you don't; you just look away. You'll all be too old for the Hill when school starts, anyway.
At Western, in the fall, in a required composition class, your professor accuses you of plagiarism because your first paper is readable. You drop the class. Carla gets an A on her biology midterm at the university in Bozeman. She's going to be a big-animal vet. Her dad tells everyone, beaming.
But the next summer, Carla quits college to marry a boy named Dale Banning. The Bannings own most of central Montana, and Dale got famous at the family's fall livestock sale. He'd been putting black bulls on Herefords, when everyone wanted purebreds. They said he was crazy, but at the sale Dale's crossbred black-baldies brought twice what the purebreds did. Dale stood around grinning, embarrassed, like a guy who'd beaten his friends at poker.
Carla announces the engagement in Haskell's kitchen, and says she'll still be working with animals, without slogging through all those classes. "Dale's never been to vet school," Carla says. "But he can feel an embryo the size of a pea inside a cow's uterus."
You've heard Dale use that line on girls before, but never knew it to work so well. Carla's voice has a dreamy edge.
"If I don't marry him now," Carla says, "he'll find someone else."
In his head, Haskell has already added the Banning acreage to his own, and the numbers make him giddy. He forgets about having a vet for a daughter, and talks about the wedding all the time. If Carla backed out, he'd marry Dale himself. For the party, they clear the big barn and kill a cow. Carla wears a high-collared white gown that hides the scar on her neck — half a Running H — from the time she got in the way at branding, holding a struggling calf. Dale wears a string tie and a black ten-gallon hat, and everyone dances to Andy's uncle's band.
Your mother drives out to the ranch for the wedding; it's the first time you've seen your parents together in years. Your dad keeps ordering whiskeys and your mother gets drunk and giggly. But they sober up enough not to go home together.
That winter, your dad quits his job, saying he's tired of Haskell's crap. He leaves the foreman's house and moves in with his new girlfriend, who then announces he can't stay there without a job. He hasn't done anything but ranch work for twenty-five years, so he starts day-riding for Haskell again, then working full-time hourly, until he might as well be the foreman.
When you finish Western, you move into your mother's house in town. Stacks of paperwork for the local horse-racing board cover every chair and table, and an old leather racing saddle straddles an arm of the couch. Your mother still thinks of herself as a horsewoman, and buys unbroken Thoroughbreds she doesn't have time or money to train. She doesn't have a truck or a trailer, or land for pasture, so she boards the horses and they end up as big, useless pets she never sees.
Summer evenings, you sit with your mom on the front step and eat ice cream with chocolate-peanut-butter chunks for dinner. You think about moving out, but then she might move in with you — and that would be worse.
You aren't a virgin anymore, thanks to a boy you found who wouldn't cause you trouble. He drops by from time to time, to see if things might start up again. They don't. He's nothing like Andy. He isn't the one in your head.
When Carla leaves Dale and moves home to the Running H, you drive out to see her baby. It feels strange to be at the ranch now, with the foreman's house empty and Carla's little boy in the yard, and everything else the same.
"You're so lucky to have a degree and no kid," Carla says. "You can still leave."
And Carla is right: You could leave. Apply to grad school in Santa Cruz and live by the beach. Take the research job in Chicago that your chemistry professor keeps calling about. Go to Zihuatanejo with Haskell's friends, who need a nanny. They have tons of room, because in Mexico you don't have to pay property tax if you're still adding on to the house.
But none of these things seem real; what's real is the payments on your car and your mom's crazy horses, the feel of the ranch road you can drive blindfolded and the smell of the hay. Your dad will need you in November to bring in the cows.
Suzy lays out the tarot cards on the kitchen table. The cards say, Go on, go away. But out there in the world you get old. You don't get old here. Here you can always be a ranch girl. Suzy knows. When Haskell comes in wearing muddy boots, saying, "Hi, baby. Hi, hon," his wife stacks up the tarot cards and kisses him hello. She pours him fresh coffee and puts away the cards that say go.
Copyright © 2002 by Maile Meloy
|Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976||21|
|Kite Whistler Aquamarine||99|
|Last of the White Slaves||112|
|Thirteen & a Half||127|
|The Ice Harvester||150|
|A Stakes Horse||157|
Half in Love by Maile Meloy
1. In the story "Tome," a female attorney represents Sawyer, a man, disabled on his job, who seeks results beyond what is legally possible. What particular decisions or considerations does the lawyer have to make as a woman in the profession?
2. In "Four Lean Hounds ca.1976," Hank deals with the grief and guilt of losing his best friend, Duncan. Near the end of the story Hank thinks: "Duncan had wronged him, but all he could hate his friend for was that Duncan had been loved." Why do you think Hank feels Duncan has "wronged him"? Has Hank wronged Duncan?
3. Clay and Susan, the couple in the story "Native Sandstone" set out to acquire a fair amount of sandstone from old man Albert. Why do you think the sandstone and other "native" materials are so important to the building of the couple's home? What does the visit to Albert's house reveal about Clay and Susan and their relationship?
4. In "Ranch Girl" the narrator claims that if you are born a ranch girl, "you've been dealt a bad hand." This statement suggests some sort of predetermined destiny. How does being branded a ranch girl limit her potential opportunities? When the cards say "go," why doesn't she leave?
5. Gina and her boyfriend Chase find themselves stuck in a diner, waiting for a wreck to clear in "Garrison Junction." Discuss how Gina and Chase find themselves at a junction all their own. After a ten-year relationship, how do you explain Chase's ambivalence toward Gina's pregnancy and the prospect of marriage?
6. "Red" is the story of a soldier by the same name who meets the beautiful and puzzling Irene on the eve of his deployment. Unlike his counterparts, Red finds sex depressing, but he is not without emotion. Irene tells Red that he's "passionate." What is Red passionate about? Why do you think he refuses Irene's offer? What compels him to return?
7. Although aging, the narrator in "Aqua Boulevard" comes across as pretty fearless, and at one point thinks that he might "outlive them all." Is there anything that you think disturbs him about aging/dying? When a taxi hits Oliver, the family dog, how does this death affect him?
8. In "The River, " the narrator, Fitz, worries about the declining health of his wife, Jo. Both Fitz and his wife's best friend, Inger, share in the fear of the unknown. How do they cope with this fear? Considering Jo's questionable state, discuss the sexual tension between Fitz and Inger.
9. The narrator and her husband, in the story "Kite Whistler Aquamarine", are each engaged in separate and consuming projects — he with caring for a prematurely born foal; she with arranging the guardianship of a young girl. Ultimately, what similarities or differences do you see between their respective projects? How do the couple's individual experiences come to reflect on one another? Do you think that they will alter their relationship?
10. In the story "Last of the White Slaves," how would you characterize Miles and Christopher's relationship? Discuss the notion of guilt in the story. How do you feel about the Hammurabic code's "eye for an eye" laws?
11. Being in love is an emotional state that assumes a whole-hearted investment. What do you think the author is trying to convey by titling the collection "Half in Love"? What themes do you find threaded throughout the stories?
12. What is your favorite story of the collection? Favorite character? Did you find yourself wanting to know more about a particular character? Could you see a character/story being explored at novel length?
13. In "The Ice Harvester," the old man continues to work despite the fact that everyone now has refrigerators. Why do you suppose he keeps at the job? What's his motivation for the work? What's the payoff?
14. All of the stories seem to address the challenge of relationships between husband and wife, man and lover, father and daughter, girlfriend and boyfriend. What statements are being made about the nature of relationships? Are there lessons to be learned from watching these characters in their various trials and errors?
15. Discuss how nature and animals figure prominently in many of the stories.
16. In "A Stakes Horse," the collection's final story, Addy takes the moral high road by pulling her horse from a fixed race. What other characters in the stories have had to make similar decisions? At what cost?
Maile Meloy is truly a master of her craft. I have read many of stories by this author and I am always amazed by how easily she is able to grip my attention from the very first sentence and carry me along with her for the entire journey, and this collection of stories is no different. They are touching, poignant and gripping. They change the way you look at and think about life and daily experiences. Meloy's stories stay with you long after they are completed and you have put the book back on the shelf. Each story is raw with emotion and really allows you understand the character's thought process in a short space of time. Meloy never shies away from the gruesome side of life, the natural turn of events, telling things the way they are in a way that most people would run away from. However, Meloy does this in such a way that you cannot help but turn the next page and see what she has in store for you next. The locales Meloy takes you to are by no means exotic, but they are not all dull or boring. Anything by this author is a must read for any short story lover.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2003
I felt that this collection of stories was melancholy at best. I also felt that there were some general writing flaws that could not be overlooked, and they served as a distraction to what could have otherwise been a wonderful book of stories.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2003
We chose this book for our book club, and it was declared a unanimous flop! Half of the members couldn't get through it, including the one with the english masters degree. We felt that the stories were unrealistic and overly dramatic. We also felt that as the stories progressed, it became easy to determine their theme. A few stories were good but many were not. We also encountered literary 'no-no's' and wondered how this book ever ended up being critiqued in such a positive light. It felt amateurish and over-the-top.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2009
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Posted April 2, 2010
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Posted May 24, 2011
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