Spokane author elicits chuckles
The Angel of Rome and Other Stories
Jess Walter, 2022
I just finished reading Jess Walter's recently published books of short stories, The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, which is a very funny and smart collection of stories. Walter is from Spokane and several of the stories refer to well known places, streets or parts of Spokane, e.g., Geno's Italian restaurant, West Central Spokane, Boone St. , the "sleepy downtown" and other references to Spokane locales. A few stories are set in Boise or Bend, Oregon. The title story, "The Angel of Rome," is a sweet humorous story about a young candidate for the priesthood in Rome who almost overnight becomes an aspiring screen writer through a casual relationship and some drinks with a minor TV actor and an enchanted meeting with a beautiful movie star in her forties, seemingly too old to attract good parts. It's a light upbeat story about how life can quickly change for the better based on a chance encounter, especially when you're young.
The funniest, and best (in my opinion) stories are "Town and Country," about a gay middle aged man in Boise stuck with the care of his demented, raunchy, libidinous father and the last story, "The Way The World Ends," about two 35-40ish climate scientists who interview for the same academic position in a small town in Mississippi and end up together in a highly embarrassing state of undress when they are discovered in a motel room by two faculty members assigned to interview them. Both stories are laugh out loud funny. The gay son in Boise comments about living with his father: "it was like living with a horny alcoholic toddler. " And "Another time, when I went into a bar near my apartment to pick him up, he raised his glass as I approached. "Another one of these, "he said. I could see he had no idea who I was. "Dad, I'm not the bartender, It's Jay. Your son." He stared at me. He was quiet a moment. Then: "Why don't you ever bring girlfriends home?" So. This was to be our Sysphean hell -- me coming out to my fading father every day for the rest of his life." Eventually, Jay finds an unconventional residential care facility for his father, "Town and Country," an old motel on the Idaho border that allows the elderly residents to drink, smoke and have sex as they please, while feeding them dinner from oversized menus that offer food they like at fictional prices, $2.50 for meatloaf, $.75 for a beer, something to look forward to.
In "A Way the World Ends," two climate scientists competing for the same job engage in a game of strip singing to Marvin Gaye songs before being discovered by a faculty couple sent to interview them. Walter writes: "Weather is climate in a certain time and place. In this time and place, two mildly depressed scientists interviewing for the same job have been caught in some kind of deviant envirosexdeath party by an overlooked genius of southern literature ( his grotesque generationally damaged characters speaking to themes of a perverted American history) and a meteorology professor who teaches her students to stand in front of a green screen and cheerfully narrate the death of the planet." This is a surprisingly upbeat story about hope after an 'in the closet' gay student finds the dystopian female climate scientist half naked under the motel's front desk after an evening of drunken revelry. The student, Jeremiah, has been shocked and depressed, not by the scientists' drunken dissolute behavior, but by their gloom and doom discussion of climate change. Feeling hopeless re the future, he says to the half naked climate scientist: "So this is what I wanted to ask you. ... If you think we've done everything we can?" "It is this second question that takes Anna's breath away. No, she thinks, we haven't done a goddam thing. ... She straightens, walks over to Jeremiah and hugs him. She thanks Jeremiah and says, "There is so much more we can do." She turns down the faculty position and heads to Siberia to do work on carbon capture.
I rarely remember short stories, even when I enjoy reading them, but I'll always remember these two stories, at least until family members check me in to Town and Country.
-- Dee Wilson