We Live in Water by Jess Walter

Jess Walter writes stories of the down-and-out, swindlers, deadbeat dads, and… zombies?we live in water

Yes – that and more, in this collection of short stories by the author of Beautiful Ruins.  Walter, a native of Washington State, bases most of his stories here and other places in the Northwest.  His characters are damaged by the ravages of drugs, bad relationships, unemployment, and sometimes a combination of all these.  Their predicaments are often horrible, but humor still laces these tales of woe.

In the title story, a man relives through flashbacks the last time he saw his father, a ne’er do well who hopes for dignity to the bitter end.  The family man in “Thief” suspects the worst of his three kids when the family vacation fund dwindles.  A con doing community service in “The Wolf and the Wild” discovers the refuge of a child’s favorite book.  And in the aforementioned zombie story “Don’t Eat Cat”, the main character ponders his own future as he searches for his ex-girlfriend, who was a victim of a club drug that changes its users into something not quite human.  And there’s others here.

I’m always trawling for different authors and was pleasantly surprised by Jess Walter.  He writes in an earthy and humorous manner and isn’t afraid to tackle some pretty tough subjects.  That he places many of his stories in his native Spokane says volumes – he obviously has a strong regard for his hometown, but doesn’t hesitate to point out some of its grittier elements.  Jess takes some pretty solid jabs at Seattle and Portland, too, just to remind us that there’s a seamier side to even those idealized cities.

(William Hicks, Information Services)