I loved Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, but I hesitated before checking out We Live in Water, his new collection of short stories. Short stories can seem like a trial--you have to go through that process of getting involved again and again--but I found that with these stories, I slipped in quickly and easily every time.
The characters in We Live in Water are getting by in Portland or Seattle, or most often, in Walter’s hometown, Spokane, and none of them are doing very well. They’ve either fallen already or they’re headed for a fall. The title story was clearly by the same author as Ruins, with multiple narrators and a complicated structure, shifting back and forth between the '50s and the '90s. It told of a man who disappeared long ago and his grown son's efforts to find out what happened to him. It read like a film noir story, I thought, imagining Robert Mitchum as the lost father.
My favorite story in the collection was “Virgo,” narrated by the now unemployed features editor of a small local newspaper. When he and his girlfriend are together, their morning ritual involves going right to her favorite page in the newspaper, the page where you find the horoscopes and the crosswords. He notices that on the days when her horoscopes are good, she has a better day, and is more generous with her, ahem, amorous attentions. After they break up and she has a new boyfriend, he begins changing the horoscopes, giving her endless one-star days and entries like “one star: hope your new boyfriend doesn’t mind your bad breath”. He changes the crossword clue that reads, "Jamaican spice"--answer: “jerk”--to her new boyfriend’s name. I thought this was hilarious, and a great idea for a story.
If you're in the mood for a good short story, consider investigating some of the books in this list.