WE LIVE IN WATER by Jess Walter
“Oren Dessens leaned forward as he drove, perched on the wheel, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, open can of beer between his knees. Heâ€™d come apart before, a couple three times, maybe more, depending on how you counted. The way Katie figuredâ€”every fistfight and whore, every poker game and long drunkâ€”he was always coming apart, but Oren didnâ€™t think it was fair to count like his ex-wife did. Up to him, heâ€™d only count those times he was in real danger of not coming back. Like that morning on the carrier.”
Review by Jill I. ShtulmanÂ (NOV 27, 2013)
The world isnâ€™t kind to the characters in Jess Walterâ€™s collection of 13 short stories. Each of them is a loser, living in a â€śfrontier of stale and unfulfilled dreams:â€ť careless fathers, scam artists, ex-cons, gamblers, incestuous brothers, drug abusers.
These arenâ€™t people youâ€™d want as your neighbors or your friends. They are, however, people you want to spend some hours with â€“ and itâ€™s all because of Jess Walterâ€™s great skill as a words craftman and his incisive ability to create a wave of emotions with a few well-placed descriptions.
The short-shorts â€“ and there are a few in this collection â€“ didnâ€™t work for this reader half as well as some of the longer stories, which pack a wallop. A few of these stories are true stand-outs.
Take the “Wolf and the Wild,” which begins this way: â€śThey fanned out in the brown grass along Highway 2 like geese in a loose V, eight men in white coveralls and orange vests picking up trash.â€ť One of these men, Wade, is in prison for white-collar theft; when he emerges, he is assigned to a pilot program tutoring elementary schoolers. One of the little ones, Drew, requests the same book every time until Wade brings along a sequel. The last five pages contain no words and these are the pages Drew likes the best. This poignant scene â€“ a young boy snuggled into the lap of a stranger, feeling safe through the power of storytelling, is beautifully rendered.
Another, “Helpless Little Things,” is a page-turning story of a scammer and drug dealer with a small network of teens whom he uses to solicit funds through fake Greenpeace offerings. But who is really the scammer and the helpless thing? This â€śturn-about is fair playâ€ť story is another winner.
The lead-off story, “Anything Helps,” focusing on a panhandling dad named Bit who goes to great lengths to buy his son the latest Harry Potter book and the eponymous story “We Live In Water” â€“ about an adult son who attempts to learn what happened to his down-and-out father â€“ are also noteworthy. In the latter, Mr. Walter writes, â€śThe fish just swam in its circles, as if he believed that, one of these times, the glass wouldnâ€™t be there and he could just sail off, into the open.â€ť
No one can sail off, of course; most of these characters are, indeed, swimming in circles, no matter how hard these men strive for acceptance or redemption. And, for this reader, a couple of the stories didnâ€™t work; “Wheelbarrow Kings,” for example, strives too hard for â€śattitudeâ€ť and lost me along the way. A possibly personal story â€“ “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washingtonâ€ť may well be the factually-based key to a couple of the stories. This isnâ€™t an upbeat collection â€“ itâ€™s not meant to be â€“ but it does reconfirm Jess Walterâ€™s abundant talents.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 128 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper Perennial (February 12, 2013)|
|REVIEWER:||Jill I. Shtulman|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Jess Walter|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
- Over Tumbled Graves (2001)
- Land of the Blind (2003)
- Citizen Vince (2005)
- The Zero (2006)
- The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009)
- Beautiful Ruins (2012)
- We Live in Water: Stories (February 2013)