‘Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976’ by Maile Meloy

Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976 by Maile Meloy, 2002

The magic trick:

Winning the reader’s sympathy at the story’s outset for certain characters before unfolding a more complicated, nuanced situation

We go to Montana this week, beginning with a double dose of Maile Meloy

For a story that seems to be mainly about the betrayal of a man’s wife with his best friend, it sure starts at a weird spot.

It begins with that man betraying his wife with his best friend’s wife. But you don’t see it as a betrayal. It makes some kind of sense at the time. You don’t even know that he’s married as you read about it. So your point of view on things certainly changes as you learn more. And yet that feeling of sympathy for his situation pervades. At least it did for me.

The title should be a clue. Four lean hounds. Four of them. Two couples. Four unfulfilled adults. But that intro skews the reader’s feelings, so that isn’t an egalitarian sympathy situation. You identify with Hank throughout. It’s an interesting bit of manipulation. And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.

The selection:

The funeral was in a cemetery so forgotten that it was just a field, grown over with sweetgrass and bitterroot. They’d fought the mortuary to be allowed to take Duncan there themselves, in a pine box loaded in his own pickup truck. Hank helped dig the grave, and the sky threatened rain. His wife, Demeter, was stoned. She was at her worst when she was stoned, and she’d been at her worst a lot in the days since Duncan had died.

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