Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial.
Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my
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Most of you know author Jess Walter for his much-acclaimed novels Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets. Whether you've read Walter's longer works or not, you won't want to miss his incredible short story collection, We Live in Water, published just this month.
Here's the publisher's summary:
. . . We Live in Water is a diverse suite of stories marked by the wry wit and generosity of spirit that has made [Jess Walter] one of America's most talked-about writers.I used to think that I didn't like short stories, but when I read a collection like Jess Walter's We Live in Water, I realize I'm just plain wrong. Each piece included in this book is a standout. Although I may have liked some ("Wheelbarrow Kings," for example) better than others ("The New Frontier"), each story introduced me to a situation or to a character that beckoned to me.
Stories in We Live in Water range from comic tales of love to social satire and suspenseful crime fiction. Traveling from hip Portland to once-hip Seattle to never-hip Spokane, to a condemned casino in Las Vegas and a bottomless lake in the dark woods of Idaho, this is a world of lost fathers and redemptive con men, of personal struggles and diminished dreams.
In title story "We Live in Water," a lawyer returns to his corrupt hometown to find his father, who disappeared 30 years earlier. In "Thief," a blue-collar worker turns unlikely detective to find out which of his kids is stealing from the family fund.
"Anything Helps" sees a homeless man try to raise money to buy his son the new Harry Potter book; and in "Virgo," a newspaper editor attempts to get back at his superstitious ex-girlfriend by screwing with her horoscope.
Also included are "Don't Eat Cat" and "Statistical Abstract of My Hometown, Spokane, Washington," both of which achieved cult status after their first publication online.
One of the successes of We Live in Water, at least for me, is that Walter addresses several unifying themes, which helped give the pieces a lengthier feel. Before I explain what I mean, it's important to understand that each story stands alone, unlinked from the others. And, although I liked the rhythm created by the order of the stories, there is no reason not to pick and choose. However, I do suggest you save the last story for last. It has an entirely different feel yet points to many of the characters you meet throughout the book.
The stories are (mostly) set in the Pacific Northwest and in the seedier sections of town. The time periods range from post World War II into the future, and the stories are told by men who are down on their luck. Many of the men have served in the army, all have broken relationships, and most are trying to find a way to connect to their sons.
So while the circumstances and the personality and likability of the protagonists vary, the connecting themes bring a cohesiveness to the collection. Thus when I finished one story in We Live in Water, I moved smoothly and directly into the next rather than having a feeling of stopping and starting.
I realize the general themes may seem depressing, and I supposed they are. But Walter writes with such immediacy, sensitivity, and respect that I found myself rooting for and bonding with many of the men, although my semi-privileged life has kept me pretty far away from their sphere of existence.
Whether you're already familiar with the author or are a new reader, We Live in Water will make you a lifelong fan of Jess Walter's. I couldn't say it any better than Publishers Weekly: "You know the way Web sites recommend books by saying if you liked this, you’ll like that? The algorithm for this debut collection is straightforward: if you like to read, you’ll like this book."
I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio, 4 hr, 55 min) read by Edoardo Ballerini. My very favorable audio review will be published by AudioFile magazine.
For more on Jess Walter, visit his website or read his short piece "How I Write" published by the Daily Beast.
Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read the welcome note, posted here on June 18, 2010. To discover more Harper Perennial books, use the Topics/Labels pull-down menu in the sidebar. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. For more about Harper Perennial, follow them on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook.
Buy We Live in Water at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. (This link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2013
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