Book Review: We Live in Water by Jess Walter

We Live in Water by Jess Walter

  • Method of Obtaining: I received my copy from the publisher.
  • Published by: Harper Perennial
  • Release Date:   2/12/2013

We Live in Water is a darkly comic, moving collection of stories, published over the last five years in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Non-Required Reading, Byliner, Playboy, and elsewhere. The stories 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.

In “Thief,” an aluminum worker turns unlikely detective to solve the mystery of which of his kids is stealing from the family vacation fund. In “We Live in Water,” a lawyer returns to a corrupt North Idaho town to find the father who disappeared thirty years earlier. In “Anything Helps,” a homeless man has to “go to cardboard” to raise enough money to buy his son the new Harry Potter book. In “Virgo,” a local newspaper editor tries to get back at his superstitious ex-girlfriend by screwing with her horoscope. Also included are the stories “Don’t Eat Cat” and “Statistical Abstract of My Hometown, Spokane, Washington,” both of which achieved a cult following after publication online.

I also recommend:

  • Roofwalker by Susan Power
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
My Review:

If you asked me to name my top three male, contemporary authors Jess Walter would top the list. We Live in Water is the third book written by Walter that I have read and, frankly, his previous novel, Beautiful Ruins, is the one that won me over. But We Live in Water shows just how masterful Walter’s writing is and how adept he is at taking one single, pivotal moment and magnifying it in such great detail that it is impossible to not get the message he is trying to get across.

In this series of short stories Walter examines the lives of people from the future and the past; he examines those without homes and those who want to escape their homes. Young and old are subject to the scrutiny and the only thing each of these stories has in common is that, much like a fish in a fish tank, it’s placed before our wondering eyes and we pause for just a touch of time to watch the subjects swim in their lives before moving on to the next thing.

My love for short stories is a fairly recent thing. I never could understand the fascination with reading a short story – having always loved my stories to be fully developed with world and characters. I thought that in order for my emotions to get wrapped up in a characters life it would require at least 300 pages of solid reading about that character. Oh, if only I’d been handed something like this book sooner. Some of these short stories are a mere two pages long, yet they pack the same punch (or more so) than books that are 300+ pages long.

If you haven’t experienced Jess Walter and want a sample of what this man is capable of then go to a bookstore and read just one of these short stories. I guarantee you will find yourself not only buying the book but looking at his previous work, just as I have done. In fact, I think I’m going to be reading Beautiful Ruins again very soon.

Don’t just take my word for it! Check out what these bloggers say!


Publisher’s Weekly


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