‘Tome’ by Maile Meloy

Tome by Maile Meloy, 2000

The magic trick:

A strange blend of loneliness, romance, and character portrait

This is a story about an attorney and her client. Simple, right?

Except that we get the odd mention of the attorney’s sex life. Why? Not sure, but it certainly puts us in the frame of mind of looking at all of this through a romantic lens. What exactly is going on between the narrator and Sawyer? Is it something real? Something imagined? Is it even imagined by the characters or just us?

The answers – or lack thereof – to these questions don’t matter. It’s enough that the story directs the reader’s attention toward asking such things. A couple subtle references to the narrator’s sleeping situation are all it takes. And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.

(It’s interesting to see the Kelly Reichardt movie Certain Women, based on three Meloy stories including “Tome,” portray this story and the Sawyer/attorney dynamic completely different than my little magic trick writeup. Makes me wonder if I know anything or at least need to revisit the story. I’m not sure.)

The selection:

A week later my phone rang in the middle of the night. I was sleeping alone then, and there was nothing to do but answer it. A call in the night could mean anything. This one meant Sawyer had a hostage and a gun at the state fund building and wanted me to look at his workers’ comp file.

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