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We Live in Water

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  4,464 ratings  ·  651 reviews
We Live in Water is a darkly comic, moving collection of short stories that veer from comic tales of love to social satire to suspenseful crime fiction, from hip Portland to once-hip Seattle to never-hip Spokane, from a condemned casino in Las Vegas to a bottomless lake in the dark woods of Idaho. This is a world of lost fathers and redemptive con men, of meth tweakers on ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 12th 2013 by Harper Perennial
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,464 ratings  ·  651 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Now…you know what we know.” Her voice went even lower. That nobody chooses. That we’re all sick. We’re all here.”
One wonders how many times the author misspelled the title. I guess the stories do not live in Walter any longer but are out there for us to enjoy, although I am not sure that is the right word. Appreciate, maybe. There are various forms of sickness in Jess Walter’s baker’s-dozen collection of bleak stories. Alcoholism, drug addiction, obsession, greed, dishonesty, some zombificat
Posted at Shelf Inflicted


It usually takes me forever to get through short story collections. If a story doesn’t grab my interest, I’ll put the book down and read something else. Often, so much time has passed that I end up returning the collection to the shelf and forgetting about it.

Not so with Jess Walter’s first collection of short fiction. I inhaled these stories in just two sittings and by the end I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to:

a. empty my wallet every time someone asks for sp
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alamw13
Five stars. With a bullet. And a syringe. And some helpless, hopeless wailing.

I met Walter at ALA and he signed his book for me. To tell the stark truth, I was wandering around, saw him signing books in the Harper Collins booth and thought, "Hey, that's a short line...", and even though I'd never heard of him, I bellied up to the free book bar. By such small cusps one's life may change.

As Donne said, comparisons are odious. But there was a name that kept ringing in my head as I read these stori
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Upon completion of this book of short stories, I feel like I’ve taken multiple personality disorder to a whole new level. First, I panhandled on the street corner watching the BMWs and the Mercedes and the Lincolns drive by; then I slept with a married woman and stole money from my bookie; then I hid in a closet behind my coveralls with the lights off, staking out my kids on my day off from Kaiser Aluminum with a six-pack next to me; next I fished with another man on the lake instead of taking m ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Thirteen short stories, almost all of them edgy and riveting. Jess Walter's narrative skill is a rare find. He balances the horrid, the heartfelt, and the humorous within each story. Sometimes it's the story that holds me spellbound, and other times it's the writing itself, independent of the story. Fiction writing is such a slippery craft. To those of us who can't do it, it sometimes seems like a magic trick.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, 5-star-reads
It’s probably not fair for me to continue to review Jess Walter’s work. He is, without a doubt, my favorite author and as such could write assembly instructions for IKEA that I’d give all the stars. This writer can bring a reader to tears, elicit snorts of derision and induce gales of uncontrollable laughter—all at the same time.

These short stories are related by a theme that is beautifully explained in a quote from the short that lent its title to the book:

And that’s when Oren understood. Do we
Betsy Robinson
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A well-known writer friend once asked me: “Do you enjoy writing?”

“Yes,” I answered, surprised. “I love it. How about you?”

“I love it too,” he answered. And then he went on to tell me this is not the case for most of the writers he knows.

Writing is the great joy of my life, and if we are a small club of people who have never claimed that creation is agony, I would guess that Jess Walter might be our president. We Live in Water is an absolute joy to read, and I cannot believe he didn’t experience
Julie Christine
The thing about failure is that it’s never really over. Even after shuffling off this mortal coil, your failures reverberate like ripples in a pond, carry into lives left behind. Jess Walter, in his exquisite collection We Live In Water presents twelve men, Disciples of Failure, whose stories we read after their choices have been made, their lives already in a state of deliquescence.

Walter takes the snapshots we make every day in our mind’s eye and crafts the stories behind the moment. The men
Tom LA
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Three stories in, and already mesmerized: how does he do that? How can he breath so much life into everything he creates, and how can he make me care so much about anything he writes?

Well, I'm done now. What can I say? I love this guy. He's about 50 years old, so I'll have at least another 20-25 of his books to read in the future. And that is a very good thing.

Seriously though, I've asked myself, what makes me prefer Jess Walter over legends like Ian McEwan, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Franzen, o
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant! Harsh, but brilliant!
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I tend to steer away from Short Stories. I just find that while I like the premise of a short story collection, they always seem to fall flat for me, and usually none of the stories impact me long enough to remember it after I finish the collection. I couldn't have choosen a better book to change my opinion of short stories.

Jess Walter does a brilliant job of creating characters so sharp you could slice yourself on their edges. Each and every story had grit, and made me feel something for each o
Lydia Presley
If you asked me to name my top three male, contemporary authors Jess Walter would top the list. We Live in Water is the third book written by Walter that I have read and, frankly, his previous novel, Beautiful Ruins, is the one that won me over. But We Live in Water shows just how masterful Walter's writing is and how adept he is at taking one single, pivotal moment and magnifying it in such great detail that it is impossible to not get the message he is trying to get across.

In this series of sh
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A collection of really good short stories. Highly enjoyable. Will definitely seek out more of Jess Walter's work.
This thought-provoking, funny, dark, sweet, tragic, engaging, heartbreaking collection set in (and by an author from) Washington state hit home for me on so many levels (in addition to being installed in the same state as I am.) All the stories were good - some were straight-up GREAT. (My favorite was probably "Don't Eat Cat," because it was like a smorgasbord of wonderful things all in one story - dystopia, impending apocalypse, humor, social & economic satire, a story of love lost, of sadn ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, favorites

So for my review of Jess Walter's first collection of short stories, I thought I'd try a different route.

Courtesy of the author's official Facebook fan page, may I present my very personal, heartfelt words?

I just thought I'd post a brief message here, in hopes that you'd see it, so here goes: I'd been reading We Live in Water, and I've got to say, this is one of the best collections I've read in a very long time. Each tale has something for everyone, I think, and they're not stories merely fo
Feb 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
The world isn’t kind to the characters in Jess Walter’s collection of 13 short stories. Each of them is a loser, living in a “frontier of stale and unfulfilled dreams”: careless fathers, scam artists, ex-cons, gamblers, incestuous brothers, drug abusers.

These aren’t people you’d want as your neighbors or your friends. They are, however, people you want to spend some hours with – and it’s all because of Jess Walter’s great skill as a words craftman and his incisive ability to create a wave of emo
Lynn G.
An unexpectedly positive reading experience and so hard to classify. A collection of short stories that have a common current running through them. They are sometimes humorous (but mostly not), sometimes poignant, often uncomfortable, very gritty, and too real. It is difficult not to have a gut reaction to the characters, their circumstances, and the ties that bind them.

The author, Jess Walter, brings it all together with his Statistical Abstract for My Hometown of Spokane, Washington which is
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
As in all short story collections, some pieces resonate more than others, but the writing craft stood out in all. The authors use of language is a sharp dagger. Whether the story was three pages or fifty, not a wasted word appeared.
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful stories about, mostly, hard scrabble people. Reminiscent of Dennis Johnson. The collection is uneven in that some stories just don't fit. Also the title. BUT. Walters is a masterful storyteller. There is so much compassion for the most flawed among us in these stories. Highly recommend reading thus.
Sam Quixote
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Jess Walter’s first short story collection is a fascinating look at contemporary American society, with a focus on the Pacific North-West region, in the wake of the stock market crash of 2008 and how people, who were already struggling before the economic downturn, are faring now. It’s by turns gritty and tragic as well as clever, compelling and unexpectedly humorous.

Walter is a native of Spokane, Washington, a small town that’s never been particularly prosperous - how do I know this? The final
Larry H
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'd rate this collection 4.5 stars.

Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins was one of my favorite books from last year. I loved the dreamy, magical way it captivated a struggling seaside town in Italy, and a young hotel owner, riled up by the arrival of a Hollywood actress.

Walter's new story collection, We Live in Water, is more gritty than dreamy, but his amazing storytelling ability shines through any setting. The main characters in each of these stories are men who are struggling with one thing or anot
I am a pretty big fan of short stories. I loved them in high school. I loved them in university. I recently vowed to myself that I would read more short story collections. "We Live in Water" is a collection of short stories by Jess Walter, who is also responsible for the beautifully written "Beautiful Ruins."
I have to hand it to Mr. Walter; he's very good. He has a knack for evoking that...something, that feeling you get when you know you're reading a good author.
However. That being said, I pe
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
These stories are all about men who are fringe or broken: criminals, con men, highly questionable husbands and fathers. And they aren't getting any better. But Walter can create a multi layered character in just a few pages that you will not easily forget. I've got two favorites. The first one is based in the near future and a zombie workforce--"Don't Eat Cat". On the surface, it's hilarious. But it has darker shadows of intolerance and prejudice when you actually stop to think about it. My othe ...more
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
a cross between richmond fontaine and laura marling, if you think about music.
a cross between hubert selby jr and denis johnson and f s fitzgerald if you think about books.
honest, funny, fucked up stories set mostly in and around spokane washington. for me, much better than his early serial killer novels. perhaps jess walter is reaching a height we all will reckon with now.
Susan Tunis
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reassessing the short-form

It wasn’t that long ago that any publisher would have told you that “story collections don’t sell.” These days, however, they’re all the rage. If asked, I would proclaim, “I’m not into short-form.” And yet, I’ve read three excellent collections within the past month. I am being forced to reassess my attitudes because there is a lot of exciting short fiction being produced these days!

Jess Walter’s debut collection, We Live in Water, is literally overflowing with story. T
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm glad I read Beautiful Ruins before I picked up this slight short story collection, because I loved Beautiful Ruins but it seems to have come from another author than the one on display here. We Live in Water contains short stories about hard luck characters in Pacific Northwest settings. I found about half of the stories to be lackluster and undeveloped. A few were standouts, but they all suffered from a certain kind of similarity to the leading men and circumstances they described, and they ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, short-stories
These short stories were oh so much better than his novel Beautiful Ruins. These 13 tales deal with those who have not gotten the best deal out of live or folks you would necessarily want to encounter. There's lots of hard luck, even for some of the least savory charactors. But a couple of these stories grab you in the heart -- the homeless man who buys his son a Harry Potter book or the divorced dad who tries to protect his son from his druggie ex-wife. These stories are set in the Pacific Nort ...more
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
Yes, Jess Walter is a terrific writer. He really knows how to put a sentence together. But do these stories need to be so sad?

The back of the book explains that these stories had been published over time during the last seven years. Maybe reading just one of these melancholy stories in a magazine--and then turning the page to find a story about the new spring fashions or ice fishing or kittens dressed as clowns--would be bearable, but reading depressing-story-after-depressing-story in one book i
2.5 stars
Nothing spectacular...
Kelly O'Mara
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Dude's never met a woman who wasn't a plot device in some guy's story. Yes, he's a great writer and the stories are all interesting and well-done, the characters are compelling. But at some point, man, I just don't want to read another story about some 40-something guy realizing life didn't turn out the way he wanted. No shit. Also, all the trying to sell Spokane comes across as patronizing, like he thinks it needs selling.
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Play Book Tag: We Live in Water - Jess Walter - 4 1/2 stars 4 10 Apr 11, 2016 11:24AM  

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Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe among many others.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996 b
“Who isn't crazy sometimes? Who hasn't driven around a block hoping a certain person will come out; who hasn't haunted a certain coffee shop, or stared obsessively at an old picture; who hasn't toiled over every word in a letter, taken four hours to write a two-sentence email, watched the phone praying it will ring; who doesn't lay awake at night sick with the image of her sleeping with someone else?” 20 likes
“Maybe it's ALWAYS the end of the world. Maybe you're alive for a while, and then you realize you're going to die, and that's such an insane thing to comprehend, you look around for answers and the only answer is that the world must die with you.

Sure, the world seems crazy now. But wouldn't it seem just as crazy if you were alive when they sacrificed peasants, when people were born into slavery, when they killed first-born sons, crucified priests, fed people to lions, burned them on stakes, when they intentionally gave people smallpox or syphilis, when they gassed them, burned them, dropped atomic bombs on them, when entire races tried to wipe other races off the planet?

Yes, we've ruined the planet and melted the ice caps and depleted the ozone, and we're always finding new ways to kill one another. Yeah, we're getting cancer at an alarming rate and suicides are at an all-time high, and, sure, we've got people so depressed they take a drug that could turn them into pasty-skinned animals who go around all night dancing and having sex and eating stray cats and small dogs and squirrels and mice and very, very rarely- the statistics say you're more likely to be killed by lightning- a person.

But this is the Apocalypse? Fuck you! It's always the Apocalypse. The world hasn't gone to shit. The world is shit.

All I'd asked was that it be better managed.”
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