Staccato Rhythm

15819297We Live In Water: Stories by Jess Walter
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 my dialysis treatments; then I decided to stalk my ex-girlfriend, to the point that she went back to her no good ex-boyfriend who had cheated on her with another woman because he was a good listener; then I conned kids into passing out Greenpeace brochures in the middle of a Portland mall; next I was divorced and worried about my son staying with his mother and her druggie boyfriend; then I found myself in the middle of Starbucks-Financial on the verge of the apocalypse witnessing a zombie attack; next I hightailed it to Las Vegas to kill the shithead who turned my sister into a whore; then I had to deal with a senile, racist older woman who liked to use the term nigger like she was at a bridge club meeting and we were back in the stone age; then I picked up trash on the side of the highway with a guy named Ricky who compared futures to black holes; next my mouth watered at the thought of cinnamon rolls and chili and scones and Hot Pockets and pretzels and sandwiches and oat bars and muffins and Sun Chips and pepperoni sticks and I planned to wash it all down with a Dr. Pepper; and last, I sat up in the middle of the night with a flashlight and a shotgun to guard my bike because I’d broken the lock and failed to acquire a new one in a timely fashion.

Instead of having a particular story or two that stood out in this collection, all of the stories in WE LIVE IN WATER: STORIES captured my attention. Each one seemed like the perfect length to tell the tale, the characters coming alive in bursts as short as 2 pages or as long as 24, the staccato rhythm more powerful than machine gun fire, with dark times and dark characters hovering around me like a swarm of bees.

1. “Anything Helps” – If I stood on the street corner long enough, not my usual spot but my second choice, with my hand held out and a pitiful expression painted on my face, I might end up with enough coins and bills in my pocket to buy my son the latest Harry Potter book.

2. “We Live In Water” – If I could just find out what happened to my father and that no good whore who caused him to stray from the chicken coop, when he needed a few bills back in the day and managed to get a little something else on the side, I might set my conscience in the right spot.

3. “Thief” – If I sat in my closet long enough, the air hanging over me like a fog, the clothes shoved against my cheeks, huddled in the back like a squirrel with a mouthful of nuts, the cans of beer getting warm at my side, I might know whether it was little, middle, or the girl who needed a few extra quarters.

4. “Can A Corn” – If I cast my line just right, the air slapping against my face, my friend yapping away at my side, I might actually forget about my fucking dialysis treatments.

5. “Virgo” – If the pissant ex-boyfriend, Mark Aikens, the one who cheated on Tanya because he couldn’t keep it in his pants, ever got wind of my stalker tendencies and my level of intensity, he might renege on the no-contact order and actually move to Mars or Jupiter, and I could get my life back, before I resorted to tweaking horoscopes.

6. “Helpless Little Things” – If I had known I could have Greenpeace and save the whales and keep the scam going until I was a happy man, I might have done a few things differently.

7. “Please” – If I didn’t have an ex-wife who chose loser boyfriends with choppy attitudes and who just happened to be maladjusted members of society, I wouldn’t have had to worry about my son.

8. “Don’t Eat Cat” – If I hadn’t witnessed a zombie attack two years earlier at Starbucks-Financial and been turned down by the government for an operation, I might not have chased after the one that got away.

9. “The New Frontier” – If my best friend Bobby hadn’t chased after his sister Lisa like some half-crazed loon, collecting nudie cards from snappers like they were government handouts, visiting every strip club within a ten-mile radius until “my balls feel like they’re going to explode” and I lose “my sense of chivalry, having a constant erection,” I might have enjoyed myself a bit more in Las Vegas.

10. “The Brakes” – If the old bitty had developed just a bit more sense and my fellow mechanics had seen a bit of integrity instead of dollar signs, I might have been able to shield my son from the ensuing madness.

11. “The Wolf And The Wild” – If I hadn’t been forced to volunteer for sophomores and second-graders with names like Megan and Drew and J’mar and Tania and DeAndre and Macro, I might not have realized the shitty state of our educational system.

12. “Wheelbarrow Kings” – If I hadn’t been forced to wheel a TV that was five feet by five feet by three feet, in a wheelbarrow with a bum wheel with a friend that had arms the size of pool sticks on a muggy day, I might not have scored my latest bump and some Sun Chips.

13. “Statistical Abstract For My Hometown Of Spokane, Washington” – If I had left Spokane, Washington in a timely fashion, like the 2,632 illegal aliens that had been deported, I might not have had my bike stolen twice, been stalked by some crazy-assed man that liked to punch himself for fun and not been surprised by a bad neighborhood every three blocks.

But, then, I might not have discovered and enjoyed this book.

Leave a Reply