Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We Live in Water by Jess Walter

We Live in Water is a wonderful collection of short stories by Jess Walter, author of previously reviewed Beautiful Ruins. Many of these stories are about parents, often working-class or even criminal class, and their relationships with children. Some succeed in making a moment or an hour in a child’s life better. Some, despite their best intentions, neglect and even endanger the children.  Most, despite being slightly bewildered, strive to do their best, as poor as that might be. These straightforward and simply told stories are about the poor, the uneducated, and the down-and-out of Spokane, Washington, people who seemingly never had a chance. A homeless man panhandles to buy his son a gift. Some con men are not as smart as they think they are. A man, intending to take his stepfather to his prison-release kidney dialysis treatment, instead takes him fishing, and this seems like the right thing to do. An ex-con doing community service reads to a second grader who brings the same book every time.  “Thief” is about a traditional family—two parents, three children. In “Thief,” Wayne, the father, is a blue-collar worker. He puts a lot of effort into trying to discover which of his children (the girl, the middle or the little) is stealing from the family vacation fund, a jar where Wayne throws his spare change. What he discovers surprises both Wayne and the reader. The final story in this book is not actually a short story but a list of facts about Spokane and Walter’s life there, grim facts that reveal the inspiration for these insightful stories.