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The Big Book

Jess Walter on the art of being underwater

Kai Ryssdal Feb 12, 2013
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There’s a certain magic that comes with reading a good story. Even one that’s not about a magical time. Which is to say, the last five years in this economy.

Novelist Jess Walter has a new collection of short stories out about people and the lives they’ve lived the past five years. “We Live in Water,” it’s called.

“We are in the midst of a recovery but when I look around my neighborhood I see what I think are yard sales, and then I look closely and I see it’s everyone’s funiture on the lawn because they have been evicted,” says Walter. “So I do think we have left a lot of people underwater as we come out of this — more than we even realize.”

His 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. “I look in those lives for moments of redemption and light and humor,” he says. “That’s the thing that always draws me to a story is humor and, thankfully, you don’t need to make $80,000 a year to have a sense of humor.”

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