THERE'S MORE TO SUPPORTING the local creative economy than going to Crafty Wonderland once a year. It should be a point of pride among literate Portlanders to know the names of the people writing stories, essays, novels, and poems in and about our city. And regionally based reading habits are even more rewarding if you extend your definition of "local" to encompass the entire Pacific Northwest—then you can add excellent Washington writers like Sherman Alexie, Jim Lynch, and Jess Walter, whose new story collection We Live in Water is firmly rooted in the region.
"I was born in Spokane in 1965," National Book Award nominee Walter writes in the short story "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown." "Beginning in about 1978, when I was 13, I wanted to leave.
"I'm still here."
The stories collected in We Live in Water have been published in journals and magazines over the last seven years. They're set in Spokane, Portland, and Idaho, and they range in subject and tone from devastating profiles of broken men who can't seem to fix themselves, to what I hope will be the last short story about a zombie I ever read in my life.
For all that Walter is frequently lauded as a humorist, the best stories in We Live in Water play the simple emotional chord of men just trying to do their best. In a story called "Thief," a father tries to figure out which of his children is pilfering quarters from the family vacation fund. In 12 short pages, Walter explores the financial and emotional burden of supporting a family, the toll taken by earning a working-class wage, and what it's like to be disappointed by your own child. (And, obliquely, to disappoint your own parent.) In the more circumspect title story, Walter introduces the parallel storylines of a father and son, in the same North Idaho resort town but separated by more than 30 years. Incrementally, profoundly, brutally, he pulls back the curtain on what happened to them. It is a great story. It should win things. We Live in Water is a great collection, in fact, and an important contribution to the literature of our region.