22 February 2013

Imprint Friday: We Live in Water by Jess Walter

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 favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

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.

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.
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.

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

ISBN-13: 9780061926624
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 2/22/13, 6:48 AM  

I read about this collection the other day and thought it sounded like one I might enjoy. Glad that the audio was good as well.

JoAnn 2/22/13, 7:32 AM  

Wow, what a convincing review! I love listening to short stories and have just added this to my list.

Sandy Nawrot 2/22/13, 7:36 AM  

I'm hot and cold on short stories, but I am hot ALWAYS for this author. He is simply an incredible writer. I have already vowed to read everything he has written so this is on my to do list.

Erika Robuck 2/22/13, 7:39 AM  

I'm becoming obsessed with Jess Walter. Thanks for this excellent review. I look forward to reading this collection.

Jenn's Bookshelves 2/22/13, 7:52 AM  

Egads! How did I not know about this. I'm a big fan of Walter's after reading Beautiful Ruins. I must get my hands on this!

bermudaonion 2/22/13, 7:56 AM  

I've found I like short stories more and more these days. They seem to suit a hectic lifestyle. I've yet to try Walter's work but I'm adding this to my list.

Charlie 2/22/13, 8:35 AM  

Liking that quote from PW. I don't mind short stories (I used to think like you, and it was a case of finding collections that worked for me. Ones that have a connection but stand alone I really love, and the author being popular makes it very appealing.

Lynne Perednia 2/22/13, 9:17 AM  

Jess Walter captures my hometown beautifully. This is the place Sherman Alexie's characters visit. This is the place where Citizen Vince tries to hide (and if that donut shop is the one I think it is, try the maple bars; get there early on Saturdays).

rhapsodyinbooks 2/22/13, 9:23 AM  

I have a fanatical commitment to resist short stories! Even when people say they are good!

Zibilee 2/22/13, 1:58 PM  

I love Walter, and have read both of his books, which were very different from one another. I would love to see what he can do with a short story, so this one is on my list now. It sounds incredible!

Fay 2/22/13, 3:37 PM  

Walter's Citizen Vince is also a terrific novel. Loved it.

Ali 2/22/13, 8:17 PM  

I haven't read anything by Walters yet; it sounds like I need to seek him out for sure. At the very least I need to read the story set in Portland.

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(Diane) bookchickdi 2/23/13, 8:03 AM  

Jess Walters is such an incredible writer. Beautiful Ruins was one of the most perfect books I have ever read, whenever anyone asks me for a recommendation, that is the one. I have this book on my Kindle, and I can;t wait to read it. Terrific review!

Beth Hoffman 2/23/13, 11:12 AM  

Your review is wonderful. I'll definitely have to check out this book.

Gilion at Rose City Reader 2/23/13, 12:22 PM  

I really liked Citizen Vince and want to read his other books. Thanks for the review!

Jenners 2/26/13, 8:36 PM  

I'm reading The Financial Lives of Poets right now and LOVING it so I'm definitely interested in this.

Unknown 11/1/15, 8:24 PM  

Hi! This book was the common read for our English class. It really is a great collection of stories and we have been assigned to write a comparative analysis on two of the stories. The only thing I disagree with concerning your review, is that you state none of the stories are connected; actually, that is not correct. There are three stories that have a major connection; they are: "Can a Corn", "Please", and "The Brakes". If you re-read and re-analyze each of these stories, you'll see it! :) Happy Reading!

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