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.

half in love cover

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.

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22 thoughts on “The Distance Between Us: Maile Meloy’s Half in Love

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  1. Haha, so glad to know I am not the only one who goes through that blacking out experience (the reason I am on this crusade to re-read the classics ;-)) (Thanks for your comment on my post.)

    Now I’m intrigued. I think about this idea a lot, the way we can love and live with people and yet still feel disconnected on some level. I sometimes feel that in my own home, when we’re so busy with our own pursuits, especially now that my son is older and I don’t need to be “with” him as much. I was familiar with the title of this book but not anything else until I read your post. I will definitely put this on my TR list. Thanks!

    1. Yeah, that black out experience is so disconcerting for me! I have a pretty good memory… And I agree on that disconnection within our homes. Sometimes we all get to doing our own things and being on our own and we lose a sense of community and togetherness that could be there. I like being alone, though!

  2. Your review is fantastic. I really want to read this now as I love short stories in general and the ones you highlighted sound right up my alley. The disconnection between people is a theme I am always interested in. Even riding the bus, there’s a specific order to filling up the seats, not wanting to unnecessarily sit next to anyone else, and an etiquette to speaking or not speaking to others in the community. We’re all so alone most of the time and often most alone among other people. I also love to spend a lot of time alone, but it’s never as lonely being alone as being alone in a group of people. And that makes no sense at all. 🙂

    1. That is so true about the bus! Even among people in my neighborhood it gets awkward with the way people drive by and pretend not to notice you walking or feel weird about being friendly. I’m not sure why we do that.

      1. Interestingly, when I’m hiking, as soon as I’m off pavement, sometimes even within feet of the parking lot, people on a trail will hail every passerby with a “Hello” and it seems an odd boundary to me but I like it.

      1. Emily, I thought of you this morning. This will make you shake your head. A school board member in a small NC county caused the high school to pull “The Invisible Man” off the shelf because of complaint by a parent of inappropriate references therein. It was a choice for summer reading. This kind of stuff makes you wonder. The best part of the story is it will likely cause more kids to read it. All the best on your quest to help us enjoy reading. BTG

            1. UPDATE: The book “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison is now back in Randolph County schools. The school board re-voted and it was returned to the shelves. Part of the reason was the NAACP chapter leader wrote a letter advocating the book which is about an African-American man being socially invisible in our country. The other event was the local bookstore started distributing free copies of the book donated by the publisher. Being narrow-minded usually comes back to haunt folks. This one did not take too long. I thought you would appreciate the update.

            2. Yay! Thanks for the update. I haven’t written a post on Ellison’s book, but I did read it five or so years ago and I couldn’t put it down. Since you have been updating me on it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It seems like another attempt to me to silence the minority and to take away voice from those who have something to say that is different than the “master” narrative. Why are we surprised? 🙂

  3. Seems like a good bit of the stories deals with rifts and contrasts, something you stated here obviously and that’s something I write about as well, so it would probably be a good read for me.

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