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WE LIVE IN WATER by Jess Walter Kirkus Star


by Jess Walter

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-192662-4
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

The debut story collection from Walter proves he’s as skilled at satire and class commentary in the short form as in his novels (Beautiful Ruins, 2012, etc.).

Most of the 13 stories here are set in the present-day Northwest, where the Great Recession has left middle-class family men bereft and brought the destitute into the spotlight. “Anything Helps” is told from the point of view of a homeless man whose effort to acquire a Harry Potter novel emphasizes his undoing as a stable parent. “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown of Spokane, Washington” is a parody of poker-faced government reports, revealing the private frustration of a man living near a battered-women’s shelter. Drug addicts and hard-luck cases abound here, but these stories aren’t melodramatic or even dour. Walter’s prose is straightforward and funny, and like Richard Russo, he knows his protagonists are concerned with their immediate predicaments, not the socioeconomic mechanisms that put them there. “Wheelbarrow Kings,” for instance, follows two meth addicts trying to pawn a projection TV, and the story’s power comes from Walter’s deft tracking of their minute-by-minute, dollar-by-dollar concerns and their clumsy but canny attempts to resolve them. Still, Walter can’t resist a zombie story—the quintessential genre for socioeconomic allegories—and in “Don’t Eat Cat,” he’s written a stellar one. Set in a near future in which a powerful club drug has bred rage-prone, feline-craving addicts, the story deftly blends romance, comic riffs on politically correct culture and dystopian horror. Women are largely absent except as lost objects of affection, but the men are not simply of a type: The small-time scam artist in “Helpless Little Things” bears little resemblance to the convicted white-collar criminal in “The Wolf and the Wild,” though they both reflect Walter’s concerns about capitalism gone bad.

A witty and sobering snapshot of recession-era America.