Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We Live In Water: Jess Walter's Short Short Stories

Jess Walter's first collection of short stories, We Live in Water, is populated with a cast of characters who you wouldn't exactly confuse with a wine and cheese crowd. These folks are drug dealers, drug addicts, homeless panhandlers, cheaters, scofflaws, and gamblers. There's even — in one of my favorite stories in the collection, "Virgo" — a newspaper editor who changes the daily horoscope to exact revenge on an exgirlfriend who religiously reads hers. 

While most of these characters aren't exactly folks you'd want to have a beer with, most of them are intensely fascinating — even if we only get to hang with them for a tiny little while. Indeed, the 13 stories that comprise this collection (and actually, three of them are less than 3 pages each, and include a recurring character) are all fewer than 20 pages — most are about 10. It's tough to say whether these stories will be memorable in the long-term, but I can sure tell you they're fun to read while you're reading them.

My favorite story in the collection is titled "Helpless Little Things," about a drug dealer who travels between Seattle and Portland. (In fact, all of the stories in the collection are set in the Pacific Northwest, many of them in Walter's hometown of Spokane.) The dealer recruits two college-age kids to help him with a scam — soliciting donations for Greenpeace, which, of course, they just pocket instead. But, boy, does the dude get quite the comeuppance. It's a just an awesomely fun story.

"Wheelbarrow Kings" is about a couple of meth-heads who try to sell an old TV at a pawn shop. "Anything Helps" is about a homeless guy who panhandles enough money to buy his son the new Harry Potter book. You're starting to get the idea, yeah? These characters are often really sad — sometimes funny — but usually, in some way, sympathetic.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the story "Don't Eat Cat," which came out as a Byliner Original last year, is also included here. It's the one story in the collection that doesn't quite fit the rest, but it's still solid; s a unique take on the zombie story. Kids becomes so disillusioned with life, they take a club drug that turns them into zombies. The main character, diagnosed with cancer, tries to find his girlfriend in the zombie city to tell her he's dying. It's sad and profound — but also entertaining as hell.

If you're a Jess Walter fan, I think you'll love these stories (for the most part), too. I sure did.


  1. I loved this collection! Also, I think it's worth noting that in "Don't Eat Cat," Z-Town is in the Seattle neighborhood called Fremont. Every summer there is a zombie walk there, which ends with a screening of Shaun of the Dead. He couldn't have chosen a better zombie mecca!

    1. Woohoo, Jess Walter! And interesting about the Seattle neighborhood and the zombie walk. Curious - what was your favorite in the collection?

  2. I just picked this up at the library today. Wish it was the audio, but still happy to have it.