We Live In Water by Jess Walter

Summary from Goodreads:

The first collection of short fiction from New York Times bestselling author 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 one of America's most talked-about writers

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

We Live In Water is a collection of stories that belong to the dirty realism sub genre. The lead characters in all the stories happen to be men. Men who have the absolute worst luck. Men who have made mistakes, are knee deep in it, and are living with it's consequences with such pain, sorrow, regret, and sadness. The issues these characters are facing range from drug-use, alcoholism, fraud, thievery, abandonment, estrangement, to zombifying boutique meds. But what I noticed is that the stories are less about the suffering but more about the person enduring it.

Here are my favorites among the thirteen short stories:

1. Anything Helps is a story of a homeless man who resorts to begging on the streets with a cardboard sign that says "Anything Helps", in order to raise money to buy his son the latest Harry Potter Book. 
-Parent and child stories always get to me. And this in particular is no exception. It's a tale that is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. Perhaps because much of narrative is the inside of Bit's (the homeless father) head. And it's just full of longing and regret and love for his son and for his family that was . 

2. Virgo is about a newspaper editor who resorts to altering the horoscope in order to get back at his ex girlfriend. 
-This story could make a great Coen Brothers movie. The lead character is one of those good guys turned psychotic. It has that dark comedy quality to it, and a shock factor that these brothers are so used to having in their films.   

3. Don't Eat Cat is a story set in a post apocalyptic world where zombies coexists with humans, a man searches for his girlfriend who was so depressed, she took the party drugs responsible for turning humans into one of them zombies. 
-I find this to be a pretty unique take on the ever popular zombie themed fiction. There's some humorous political and social commentary which bought much texture to the whole thing. And despite the fantastical setting and somewhat comedic nature of the tale, I felt a deep ache for the fate of these once lovers.

4. The Wolf in the Wild is about a man jailed for financial fraud and eventually got involved with a kid's tutoring program as part of his community service. 
-I like the character turnaround in this story. A financial shark with a big heart. And he has a huge amount of frustration contained in him, for the educational system, for his own life, for the kid's in the center. And in the end, he just sort of let it all go with the simplest and most heartfelt act.   

5. The New Frontier is a story about a guy and his best friend who goes off to las Vegas in order to bring home the former's stepsister who may have turned herself into a stripper. 
-Initially, the beginning felt like one of them The Hangover movies. A romp through strippers, booze, and games of chance. But it soon ran a little deeper and darker as the two guys unravel themselves. And a skeleton soon pops out of the closet.  

6. Wheelbarrow Kings is a story where two meth addicts mooch an outmodeled tv and lugs the heavy thing around town in the hope of pawning it for some pot money. 
-This story is so funny, it hurts. A sad kind of hurt one may feel when life just happens to like piling the crap on you and laughing about it. And there is nothing else left to do but laugh along. Laugh and world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. There is such tender pathos and smart wit seeping through the lines that despite the bleak and dismal tone, it is strangely satisfying.


  1. I've just installed iStripper, so I can have the hottest virtual strippers getting naked on my taskbar.


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