The Distance Between Us: Maile Meloy’s Half in Love
I read Half in Love (2003)! If you have read my post on Maile Meloy, you would know that I’ve read all of Meloy’s work except her first book of short stories, Half in Love. My library never obtained it and I never bought it, until now. And I’m not half in love with Meloy’s stories. I’m all the way in love.
Although the collection has many different themes, stories, settings, types of characters, and plots, what I saw that connected them all is an exploration of the gulf that separates us from each other. We are all connected in some ways, but in others we are all very much alone. Meloy’s stories exemplify this.
One story, “Paint,” is quite tragic, with a husband home painting the deck and a wife off to work. He ends up getting the wooden paint stirrer stuck in his wrist. He passes out, has weakness in his legs, and ultimately can’t make it to a phone, so he waits for his wife to return. But when she does, she does not look for him or think his absence unusual. They have separate bedrooms, separate lives. He tries to call for here, but she instead turns off the light and goes to bed, assuming that he has already done the same. He pulls the stick out and bleeds to death on the porch. The story ends there, but just imagine being the wife who finds him in the morning. What an awful feeling it would be. But the story shows how disconnected they were even during the mundane, so that when a tragedy struck, they could not connect nor could they be there for each other.
Another story is called “The Ice Harvester.” It highlights the gulf that divides some generations because of technology. The little girl skating on the pond, the one who has a refrigerator and central air and heating, does not understand why an old man would cut ice from the lake and haul it away. Many times we do not understand each other because of age or era.
I again enjoyed “Ranch Girl,” the first story I had previously read of Meloy’s in an anthology. It is written in second person and describes the life of a rural, ranch girl. I think it appealed to me because of my own time spent living in a rural area. Many of the boys I dated in high school were “cowboys” and my friends wore Wranglers. The life and experiences described in the story, although seemingly specific, are also generic, and I could see my own small town represented in those words and happenings.
“Last of the White Slaves” is about two gay men living in Saudi Arabia. One works for the British consulate and the other is his boyfriend. This story has many layers, but one of them is the idea echoed from the title, that the colonial residents of such countries are the last of the slaves. Yet, the servants in Miles’s house live their own form of slavery, and the British girl who is beheaded is in her own slave-like situation. On the surface, the story is about gay men fighting with each other and the life of an expatriate. Underneath, we see the injustice of framing a servant for stealing to fight with your lover, the complicated nature of living in a foreign country and judging those customs and laws, the longing for home, being an outsider, and making up for the big mistakes one makes. Miles turns his servant in for stealing (an act committed by his lover Chris because he’s somewhat petty and jealous) and the servant gets his hand cut off. Miles has to live with that after realizing the truths about the situation. But the horror has already been done and cannot be undone.
Many of the characters in the stories are lawyers, and their relationships with their clients highlights the distance between us in areas like class, gender, age, and race. There is distance and I don’t see Meloy making a statement about the immovability of this distance, but instead the absurdity. Perhaps there is a lesson in these stories of the ridiculous reasons that we keep ourselves apart, either in romantic relationships or in wider contexts, such as culture. Perhaps some of these gulfs can be bridged.
Now, when I went to Goodreads to mark that I had (finally!) read this book, I found that I had already marked it as “read” and given it 5 stars. Huh?
I guess I HAD already read it! And that explains why a few of the stories were eerily familiar, in a déjà vu sort of way. I brushed that off by thinking that it was just similar to the experience of reading Meloy’s other collections, but now I know that I had already, somehow, gotten a hold of this collection and read it. And then I completely blacked out the experience.
Well, I’m glad I reread it. It means I got to write this post.