ONE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2019
From the New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins, the first collection of short fiction from Jess Walter—a suite of diverse and searching stories about personal struggle and diminished dreams, all of them marked by the wry wit, keen eye, and generosity of spirit that has made him a bookseller and reader favorite
These twelve stories—published over the last five years in Harper’s, The Best American Short Stories, McSweeney’s, Playboy, and other publications—veer from comic tales of love to social satire to suspenseful crime fiction, from hip Portland to once-hip Seattle to never-hip Spokane, from a condemned casino in Las Vegas to a bottomless lake in the dark woods of Idaho. This is a world of lost fathers and redemptive conmen, of meth tweakers on desperate odysseys and men committing suicide by fishing.
We Live in Water is a darkly comic, heartfelt collection of stories from a “ridiculously talented writer” (New York Times), “one of the freshest voices in American literature” (Dallas Morning News).
Title notwithstanding, most of the characters in Walter's short stories live in Spokane, Wash., but they are often under water, or nearly so. Spokane, as Walter makes clear, bears little relationship to Portland or Seattle, the Pacific Northwest's name-brand cities. There are no locavores here, and the one potential latte drinker is stuck in Spokane doing his court-mandated community service and prefers scotch, anyway. Walter (Beautiful Ruins) writes beautifully about hard luck divorced dads, addicts, con artists, working men trying to keep things together, and a few zombies who've made the Seattle of the future look a lot like the Spokane of the present, which Walter describes as a place where, no matter how big your house is, "you're never more than three blocks from a bad neighborhood." Both "Anything Helps" and "Don't Eat Cat" (rule #1 for zombies trying to hold down a job and an apartment) are included in 2012 best-of anthologies, but good as they are, the star is the title story, a heartbreaker set in a formerly seedy, now touristed part of Idaho. Darkly funny, sneakily sad, these stories are very, very good. You know the way Web sites recommend books by saying if you liked this, you'll like that? The algorithm for this debut collection is straightforward: if you like to read, you'll like this book.