We Live in Water is a collection of short stories by Jess Walter. Though the stories are fictional, each of Walter’s characters feels very real. Characters whose traits you may see in yourself or people that you know. The stories are based in small towns, with everyday people trying to survive. Harper Perennial | February 12, 2013 | Paperback | 192 pp
The first story is named “Anything Helps”. Here we are introduced to Bit. He is homeless, jobless and trying to scrape together some money. He has resorted to making up a cardboard sign and standing on the curb with a sign reading “Anything Helps”. Drivers speed by or slow down and mock him, He is offered $20 from a man driving an expensive car as long as he tells him what he is really going to use the money for. Bit tells him – he’s going to buy the newest Harry Potter book. The rich man thinks he is lying. Bit concedes, he’s going to use the money for alcohol and maybe some snacks. $20 in hand, we shortly find out his real intentions for the money. His estranged son wants the new Harry Potter book, and Bit is going to do whatever it takes to get it for him.
Another story in this collection is “We Live in Water“. It begins with a flashback, our main character Michael is recalling the last night he ever saw his father. His father is tied up with certain nefarious characters, gambling, stealing, cheating. He is in trouble with a dangerous man. When we flash to the present, nearly 35 years later, Michael is tracking down a lead of one of the last people who saw his father alive. Michael’s own life is in tatters- he’s lost his wife, his children and his home. He is suddenly desperate for closure. Hoping for some answers regarding his own life’s dysfunction. We are not sure what Michael is looking for, but we quickly sympathize with his character and hope he finds his answer by the end of the story.
This collection of stories is not packed with happy endings or tied up loose ends. It is exceptionally real and as we connect with the characters they leave us with real emotional marks afterwards. I was left thinking of the characters days after I finished the book. These characters are real, raw and rugged from the jagged edges of life. We like them, despite their faults, as they struggle through their day to day lives. I would recommend this to short story lovers and lovers of raw, realistic fiction.
We Live in Water
by Jess Walter