The Washington Post - Michael Lindgren
Jess Walter…is as talented a natural storyteller as is working in American fiction these days…these stories have both zip and heart, muscle and soul…Walter works the margins of American life, depicting the homeless and incarcerated, the hopeless and the unlucky…It's especially pleasing to see him returning to the fatalistic noir concerns that dominated his earlier fiction. He has always had a flair for a certain kind of American scofflaw: the hustlers, gamblers, dealers and crooked cops whom he portrays with a knowing, sardonic affection.
The New York Times Book Review - Allison Glock
…Walter is unflinching and, possibly, a bit depressed, which is what happens to any compassionate, reasonable person who stares too closely at the world…[he] makes you laugh, then makes you feel a little queasy about it. This is the alchemy of the damned…Fortunately, Walter is a bighearted man who excels at writing about other bighearted, if broken, men. That generosity of spirit, coupled with Walter's seeming inability to look away from the messy bits, elevates these stories from dirges to symphonies.
Title notwithstanding, most of the characters in Walter’s short stories live in Spokane, Wash., but they are often under water, or nearly so. Spokane, as Walter makes clear, bears little relationship to Portland or Seattle, the Pacific Northwest’s name-brand cities. There are no locavores here, and the one potential latte drinker is stuck in Spokane doing his court-mandated community service and prefers scotch, anyway. Walter (Beautiful Ruins) writes—beautifully—about hard luck divorced dads, addicts, con artists, working men trying to keep things together, and a few zombies who’ve made the Seattle of the future look a lot like the Spokane of the present, which Walter describes as a place where, no matter how big your house is, “you’re never more than three blocks from a bad neighborhood.” Both “Anything Helps” and “Don’t Eat Cat” (rule #1 for zombies trying to hold down a job and an apartment) are included in 2012 best-of anthologies, but good as they are, the star is the title story, a heartbreaker set in a formerly seedy, now touristed part of Idaho. Darkly funny, sneakily sad, these stories are very, very good. 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. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins and Associates. (Feb. 12)
All Things Considered - NPR
"Walter’s got a great ear and a genius for sympathy with America’s new dispossessed."
The Big Book - Marketplace.org
"There’s a certain magic that comes with reading a good story. Even one that’s not about a magical time…[Walter’s] collection is full of tragic characters the homeless, the drug-addicted and those who have lost everything to gambling debts. But it is not without humor."
“Displays... fearless, unflinching prose in these short stories.”
"…gritty, pitch-perfect collection…Walter wrings enlightenment from dark realities."
“Incrementally, profoundly, brutally, [Walter] pulls back the curtain… We Live in Water is a great collection, in fact, and an important contribution to the literature of our region.”
“Vintage Walter…quirky. And fun.”
The Big Book Marketplace.org
“There’s a certain magic that comes with reading a good story. Even one that’s not about a magical time…[Walter’s] collection is full of tragic characters the homeless, the drug-addicted and those who have lost everything to gambling debts. But it is not without humor.”
“…gritty, pitch-perfect collection…Walter wrings enlightenment from dark realities.”
“This badass collection aligns itself... with Walter’s gritty, bighearted novels.”
New York Times Book Review
“Walter is a bighearted man who excels at writing about other bighearted, if broken, men. That generosity of spirit coupled with Walter’s seeming inability to look away from the messy bits, elevates these stories from dirges to symphonies.”
“Jess Walter, who is revered for his novels, shows a gritty side in these clear-cut stories... Each word is perfectly placed...[Walter] brings his first story collection to a smashing end.”
New York Times
His most bleakly funny, hard-edge book in years.
“[Walter] can mine the least scintilla of humor and wit from his characters’ broken livespeople whose dreams will surely not come true but who somehow keep trying.”
“Brims with humanity. A-”
“Wildly entertaining and thought-provoking fiction from a prodigiously talented writer.”
NPR's All Things Considered
“Walter’s got a great ear and a genius for sympathy with America’s new dispossessed.”
“Mr. Walter brings (his) outlook to short-story writing easily, and with a vengeance… His most bleakly funny, hard-edge book in years.”
“Deliver[s] unexpected laughs while playing with what it is we think we know…As a reader, I delight in Walter’s work. As a writer (humor me here), I curse. He’s so freakishly, fiendishly good, it isn’t fair.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“With a cineaste’s eye, [Walter] mov[es] the action at a terrific pace, such velocity and narrative swing…What he makes us understand is bracing, clear. Fiction or no, it is here we see Walter as trusted interlocutor, saying, let me show you, this is where we are now.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“It is perhaps a grim and fatalistic vision that Jess Walter presents in We Live in Water, yet one that in today’s America seems all-too-recognizable; no, we may not all live in water, but at one time or another, we have all lived in Spokane.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“For over a year, I’ve been waiting for a story collection to floor me the way Alan Heathcock did with Volt. The 13 stories of Jess Walter’s We Live in Water come close.”
“Black humor is what we expect from Jess Walter. What is different is that the stories give us a sense of the writer’s heart we haven’t gotten from the parade of bright novels.”
The debut story collection from Walter proves he's as skilled at satire and class commentary in the short form as in his novels (Beautiful Ruins, 2012, etc.). Most of the 13 stories here are set in the present-day Northwest, where the Great Recession has left middle-class family men bereft and brought the destitute into the spotlight. "Anything Helps" is told from the point of view of a homeless man whose effort to acquire a Harry Potter novel emphasizes his undoing as a stable parent. "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown of Spokane, Washington" is a parody of poker-faced government reports, revealing the private frustration of a man living near a battered-women's shelter. Drug addicts and hard-luck cases abound here, but these stories aren't melodramatic or even dour. Walter's prose is straightforward and funny, and like Richard Russo, he knows his protagonists are concerned with their immediate predicaments, not the socioeconomic mechanisms that put them there. "Wheelbarrow Kings," for instance, follows two meth addicts trying to pawn a projection TV, and the story's power comes from Walter's deft tracking of their minute-by-minute, dollar-by-dollar concerns and their clumsy but canny attempts to resolve them. Still, Walter can't resist a zombie story--the quintessential genre for socioeconomic allegories--and in "Don't Eat Cat," he's written a stellar one. Set in a near future in which a powerful club drug has bred rage-prone, feline-craving addicts, the story deftly blends romance, comic riffs on politically correct culture and dystopian horror. Women are largely absent except as lost objects of affection, but the men are not simply of a type: The small-time scam artist in "Helpless Little Things" bears little resemblance to the convicted white-collar criminal in "The Wolf and the Wild," though they both reflect Walter's concerns about capitalism gone bad. A witty and sobering snapshot of recession-era America.