Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: "We Live in Water" by Jess Walter

While this book has “contractual obligation” written all over it, in the gathering and quality of the stories in it, there are a few tidy morsels that are worth checking out in author Jess Walter’s debut story collection, We Live in Water. I read The Financial Lives of Poets a few years ago and found it quite delightful. Walter, as a writer, never treads in new ground in his stories of suburban angst and desperation, but they are well written with characters as sympathetic as they are believable. I think the problem with this collection in particular is that Walter really isn’t a master, or even a good practitioner of the short story form. His ideas are not only big in weight, but in scope as well. They fit more snuggly and cohesively in the form of a novel, where they have time to gestate for the right kind of emotional reaction. A few pages are not enough for what Walter is good at. A series of short shorts, only about three or four pages long are a good example of why Walter is not a good short story writer. They seem rushed and lack depth like most kinds of flash fiction, and “Don’t Eat Cat” a story about a drug that turns people into zombies is so unoriginal I don’t want to discuss it. But the stories that do work are very good. “Anything Else”, about a guy who is homeless, begging for money so he can buy his estranged son the new Harry Potter book, is deeply humane against all odds, and comes off true and heartfelt. “Virgo” is a bit of a nasty story about lost love, and the kind of fantasies we act out when that love sours. And the final story, “Statistical Abstract for my Hometown of Spokane, Washington” begins as a list of boring stats, but comes to show how much Walter loves and hates his hometown for the seemingly beautiful and ugly qualities it possesses. These stories make the book way more worth than it should be.

Rating: 4/5

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