Meloy, Maile 1972–

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Meloy, Maile 1972–

PERSONAL:

Born 1972, in Helena, MT; daughter of a lawyer. Education: Graduated from Harvard University; University of California, Irvine, M.F.A., 2000.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Los Angeles, CA. Agent—Amanda Urban, ICM, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER:

Writer and novelist. Worked as a script reader with Walt Disney Studios. Player on the U.S. national women's kayak polo team.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Aga Khan Prize, Paris Review, 2001, for "Aqua Boulevard"; Rosenthal Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, and PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, 2003, for Half in Love; John C. Zacharis First Book Award, Ploughshares, 2004, for Half in Love; Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist, 2005, for Liars and Saints; National Magazine Award nomination.

WRITINGS:

Half in Love (stories), Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.

Liars and Saints (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

A Family Daughter (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2000. Contributor to literary journals and periodicals, including Ploughshares, Paris Review, Ontario Review, Witness, and the New Yorker.

SIDELIGHTS:

Maile Meloy is a novelist and short story writer whose fiction is usually set in the American West. Meloy was born and raised in Montana and then moved to California. The majority of the stories in her collection Half in Love are set in the West. They were described by Washington Post Book World reviewer Susan Adams as "an original mix of quiet calm and wrenching pain." Adams added that Meloy's "gracefully confident and subtly emotional voice brings her locales vividly to life."

The stories that reflect the tenacity of the people who live in the contemporary West include "Ranch Girl," in which the protagonist is yearning to explore other territory, but also afraid to leave the security of home and all that is familiar. She is warned by a married friend to make a life of her own before settling down and having a family, but the narrator feels that domestic life would not be so bad, in spite of the failed marriages that surround her. Jean Thompson wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "what works here is Meloy's ability to sketch within a few pages an entire world of cattle drives and cowboy brawls and lives truncated by carelessness or failed dreams…. Meloy's language is low-key and without pyrotechnics, a stripped-down prose that achieves its eloquence straightforwardly." Thomson continued: "What gives the book its cohesiveness, and makes it a collection rather than a simple assemblage, are its unities, not only of place and style but of theme. When grouped together, several stories echo and reinforce one another."

In "Kite Whistler Aquamarine" a woman wakes on a twenty-below-zero morning to find her husband caring for a newborn foal in their living room. Seattle Times reviewer Ginny Merdes remarked that this story "underlines the resilience of the Western character despite nature's hard knocks." The thread that parallels the man's protection of the frostbitten animal is the wife's attempt, as a lawyer, to reunite a jailed client with her six-year-old daughter. A reviewer for Mostly Fiction.com called Meloy's stories "highly compressed, wound tight. They are driven by a powerful inner tension that grips and holds the reader securely in place as events play out as Greek tragedy. These are not action stories. Most have a dirge-like quality—slow, solemn, and mournful. Most involve death and loss." San Francisco Chronicle contributor John Freeman commented that "there's something ominous stalking all of Meloy's Western tales, and the best ones use this looming sense of dread to reflect on the relationships they explore." Freeman felt the best story to be "Garrison Junction," in which a man and his pregnant girlfriend sit in a diner waiting for a mountain pass to be cleared after it is blocked by a fatal wreck involving a car and a tractor trailer truck. Meloy revisits the couple years later in another story in which they are married and have a teenage daughter, who herself is now threatened. Freeman noted that the smaller set of stories "is worldly and Jamesian in style; it globe-trots from Paris to the Mediterranean and back in time to war-torn London." One of these stories is Meloy's award-winning "Aqua Boulevard," about an elderly Parisian man who contemplates the end of life. "Red" finds a young soldier about to ship out to join World War II.

An Economist reviewer noted that Meloy writes "with flair and confidence, and a sure sense of dramatic timing (which usually means knowing exactly when to drop the bombshell)." A Kirkus Reviews writer felt that Meloy "may be at her best when writing about her native Montana, portraying the seamless blending of lifestyles in the gradual mingling of newcomers and natives." Library Journal contributor Marcia Tager wrote that Meloy's stories "have a potent immediacy that makes them believable and heart-wrenching."

Lust, anger, pride, and a few of the other seven deadly sins are all major themes in Meloy's debut novel Liars and Saints. In this story, Meloy weaves together a series of vignettes that tell the tale of the Santerre family over several generations. The saga begins with Yvette and Teddy, young California Catholics, who marry before he is shipped off overseas to fight in World War II. After the war, the couple has two daughters, but their happy home life is put to the test when their priest prompts Yvette to confess an indiscretion that occurred while Teddy was away at war. From that point on, nothing is the same for the family. Teddy becomes almost insanely jealous and Yvette tries to atone for her flirtation by becoming increasingly devout and vowing never to be so forthcoming again. Later, the sins seem to snowball when their eldest daughter, Margot, gets pregnant at sixteen and is shipped off to have the baby in France. Through timing and trickery, Yvette manages to pass the baby off as her own son, even to her husband. As the years go by and the children start families of their own, the expanding Santerre family's web of lies continues to grow as well. The following years bring incest, lesbianism, and, finally, murder into the lives of the family members whose almost desperate desire to protect each other from the truth leads to more tragedy than any of them could have imagined. Liars and Saints is a complex novel that borders on the edge of soap opera, but as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly pointed out, Meloy's "disciplined economy and resonant clarity of her prose" allows the author to tell such a sweeping story without making it sensational. A writer for Kirkus Reviews felt that Meloy "pushes every melodramatic hot button with disarming understatement" and does so in short, concise episodes that allow the reader to experience several different points of view. Reba Leiding, writing for Library Journal, explained that in this first novel "Meloy shows how skillful she is at hurtling the reader into an intriguing story line."

Meloy revisits the troubled Santerre family in her second novel, A Family Daughter. This time, however, the story rests on a narrative twist that makes the new work "a thoroughly original and undeniably brilliant companion piece to Meloy's debut novel," Liars and Saints, noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. "On the surface, the book is the straightforward, beautifully told saga of the Santerre family: deeply Catholic Yvette; her depressed and rapidly aging husband, Teddy; their three grown children; and the repercussions of a semifictional book written by their granddaughter, Abby, which reveals the family's darkest secrets," commented reviewer Jenny Comita in W. Those who have read Meloy's first novel, Comita continued, "will quickly catch on to the new book's startling twist: Abby's tell-all novel is essentially Liars and Saints. Comita noted that Meloy was concerned with potential negative reaction to retroactively transforming her well-received debut novel from a standalone story of its own to a segment of a larger meta-story. She also encountered some initial resistance from her publisher. Critical reaction to both novels, particularly A Family Daughter, has remained consistently positive. "The fact that [A Family Daughter] works whether or not the reader is familiar with its predecessor is a testament to Meloy's considerable talent," Comita remarked.

As A Family Daughter opens, seven-year-old Abby Santerre is experiencing the breakup of her family as her parents face a difficult divorce. While her parents work through the details of their dissolving marriage, Abby is sent to live with her grandmother. While there, Abby develops a relationship with her Uncle Jamie, a connection that will have profound effects on the remainder of both of their lives in the form of both emotional closeness and forbidden sexual involvement that neither Abby nor Jamie wants exposed. As the novel progresses, the story follows both Abby and Jamie as both grow and mature into adulthood. Jamie becomes involved with a neurotic and self-centered heiress, Saffron, and endures a difficult relationship with her. Abby starts a relationship of her own with Peter, a teaching assistant, and delves into writing her infamous novel. When the book is published some time later, it rocks the Santerre family to its core; even though critical names and facts have been changed, the book hews close to the truth, and the troubled Santerres find that they must look beyond the words on the page for the core issues they have avoided facing through the years. "Her relatives read her manuscript with understandable trepidation, and the volume begins to play an unpredictable role in their lives, sparking at least one affair and leading inadvertently to a death," commented Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. "The most poignant theme has to do with the fact that families are so bound up in one another's lives that things like fear, confusion, restlessness and despair become airborne viruses," observed Jeff Giles in the New York Times Book Review. "Everything about the Santerres that is good, bad or indifferent is held in common." However, "at the end of an often maddening novel, Meloy arrives at a promising resting place: a family love that's akin to religious faith, based not on seeing but on believing. It's been a rough climb, but it's a lovely view," Giles concluded.

A Family Daughter "roams engrossingly from California to Paris to Buenos Aires in ways that make it a big book as well as a swift, slender, graceful one," remarked New York Times Book Review critic Janet Maslin. In the end, Maslin wrote, it is a work that displays "the deep ramifications of more ambitious fiction." Meloy's ambitious novel proves "her status as one of the best literary observers of contemporary American life," commented Emily Cook in Booklist. "We're so seduced by Meloy's novel-within-a-novel structure, we catch ourselves believing that this second story is the truer one," concluded Ariel Swartley, writing in Los Angeles Magazine. "After all, it's the author who's telling us so." The Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter both stand alone, but "together they pack a seismic wallop."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Atlantic Monthly, September, 2003, Thomas Mallon, "California Catholics: Maile Meloy's First Novel Uses Gaudy Old-Time Religion to String Together a Sweeping Family Narrative," p. 160.

Booklist, May 1, 2003, review of Liars and Saints, p. 1580; December 15, 2005, Emily Cook, review of A Family Daughter, p. 24.

Economist, August 3, 2002, review of Half in Love; June 21, 2003, review of Liars and Saints, p. 77.

Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 2006, Jennifer Reese, "Relatively Speaking: In A Family Daughter, Maile Meloy Revisits the Clan from Her Debut—With a Twist," review of Liars and Saints, p. 80.

Esquire, December, 2003, Anna Godbersen, Interview with Maile Meloy, p. 175.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Half in Love, p. 604; April 15, 2003, review of Liars and Saints, p. 562; November 1, 2005, review of A Family Daughter, p.1161.

Library Journal, August, 2002, Marcia Tager, review of Half in Love, p. 148; May 1, 2003, Reba Leiding, review of Liars and Saints, p. 156; January 1, 2006, Reba Leiding, review of A Family Daughter, p. 100.

Los Angeles Magazine, April, 2006, Ariel Swartley, "Family Affairs: Maile Meloy's New Novel Depicts a Hermosa Beach Brook Adrift," review of A Family Daughter, p. 126.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 7, 2002, Mark Rozzo, review of Half in Love, p. R13.

New Yorker, June 16, 2003, "First Novels," p. 197.

New York Times, May 19, 2003, Janet Maslin, "Family's Many Problems: Sketched in Few Words," p. E6.

New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2002, Jean Thompson, review of Half in Love, p. 5; June 15, 2003, Sara Mosle, "The Woman Who Kept the Secrets: Maile Meloy's Novel Centers on the Matriarch of a Peripatetic Family and Her Attempt to Conceal the Truth," p. 7; February 9, 2006, Janet Maslin, "A Second Novel Casts the First in a Whole New Light," review of Liars and Saints; February 19, 2006, Jeff Giles, "Any Resemblance Is Coincidental. Really," review of A Family Daughter, p. 21.

New York Times Magazine, May 11, 2003, Laura Miller, "Maile Meloy, Writer: An Author with Authority," p. 29.

People, February 27, 2006, Moira Bailey, "Books," review of A Family Daughter, p. 61.

Ploughshares, winter, 2003, "Postscripts," p. 220.

Publishers Weekly, June 10, 2002, review of Half in Love, p. 39; April 28, 2003, review of Liars and Saints, p. 43; November 28, 2005, review of A Family Daughter, p. 23.

San Francisco Chronicle, July 7, 2002, John Freeman, review of Half in Love.

Seattle Times, August 4, 2002, Ginny Merdes, review of Half in Love.

W, March, 2006, Jenny Comita, "Novel Concept: With Her New Book, Maile Meloy Turns Her Reputation for Quiet Realism inside Out," profile of Maile Meloy, p. 324.

Washington Post Book World, August 18, 2002, Susan Adams, review of Half in Love, p. 10.

ONLINE

Barnes and Noble Web site,http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (March 10, 2007), "Meet the Writers: Maile Meloy".

Believer,http://www.believermag.com/ (March 10, 2007), Ross Simonini, review of A Family Daughter.

Maile Meloy Home Page,http://mailemeloy.com (March 10, 2007).

MostlyFiction.com,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (August 13, 2002), review of Half in Love.

Orange Prize for Fiction Web site,http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/ (June 14, 2005), Christina Patterson, review of Liars and Saints.