Review by Booklist Review
Closely following his historical novel The Cold Millions (2020), Walter's second short-story collection features 12 sparkling, neatly varied pieces that range from Europe to the small towns of rural Washington State, and from the 1970s up to the present. The rambunctious title story shows Walter at his best, as his naive hero--a college student and aspiring writer from Nebraska adrift in Rome in the early '90s--falls in by chance with a beautiful Italian actress and her boisterous American costar. Walter also reveals a gift for darker, more surreal humor, as in "Town & Country," in which the narrator deals with the consequences of his father's dementia, as he places him into a "manufactured Idaho motor hotel of nostalgia and denial." At times, Walter overreaches: the concluding story, "The Way the World Ends," is freighted with more meditations on climate change and racial divides than one antic short story can safely handle. But Walters' compassion, wit, and general charm redeem even this story, and the volume as a whole is a fizzy delight.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Reading Walter's perceptive collection (after The Cold Millions) is like sitting next to the guy at a dinner party who has something hilarious to say about everyone and knows all their secrets. In the title story, written with actor Edoardo Ballerini, a starry-eyed Nebraska kid spends a year studying in Italy after high school. There, he stumbles onto the set of a film starring a fading Italian bombshell, and the encounter sets off an antic shaggy-dog tale culminating in the students in his Latin class writing a new ending for the movie. Walter is even better in quieter stories like "Drafting," in which a woman battling cancer seeks out an old flame, a 36-year-old perpetually stoned skater dude who, despite his utter fecklessness, is the only person able to quiet her existential dread. Occasionally, Walter's shrewdness about the nature of his characters can feel a little schematic, as in the otherwise entertaining and witty "Famous Actor," involving a hookup between a coffee shop barista and a slumming movie star with a drug problem. The dialogue and setup are great ("It's so great to just be in, like, a fucking apartment," the actor says about the narrator's place), though it ends predictably. Compared to the novels, this is minor Jess Walter, but minor Jess Walter is better than most. (June)
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Review by Library Journal Review
A collector of honors, with Stegner, Rona Jaffe, and three Pushcart Prizes among them, Conklin offers a Rainbow Rainbow of short stories about queer, gender-nonconforming, and trans characters like the fifth grader who explores gender identity by dressing as an ox--instead of a matriarch--for a school reenactment of the Oregon Trail. After closing out her twice Booker-honored "Wolf Hall" trilogy, Mantel limns the transformative aspects of childhood in the loosely autobiographical stories of Learning To Talk. Author of the New York Times best-selling Three Women and the deliciously contentious debut novel Animal, a personal favorite, Taddeo offers stories (two Pushcart Prize-winning) grounded in the dating service Ghost Lover, a forwarding system for text messages (75,000-copy first printing). In The Angel of Rome, Beautiful Ruins author Walter highlights crucial moments in the lives of his characters, from a teenage girl aspiring to be like her missing mother to a son who must come out repeatedly to a father facing dementia.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A dozen stories spell excellent news for fans of the Bard of Spokane. Since Beautiful Ruins, his 2012 blockbuster, Walter has won a legion of readers who have been through the backlist and impatiently gobbled down his two follow-ups--a story collection, We Live in Water (2013), and the excellent historical novel Cold Millions (2020). This second collection of shorts is a glorious addition to the oeuvre, with a much brighter mood than its gloomy predecessor. The title story, which began its life as an Audible original, is a mini Beautiful Ruins, including an Italian setting, beautiful movie-star character, and heartbreakingly adorable but benighted male protagonist, here a blue-collar boy from Nebraska whose year abroad involves church-sponsored Latin lessons at a "papal community college" in a Roman industrial building. This. Story. Is. So. Damn. Funny. And almost ridiculously heartwarming. But the same can be said of many of the others, no matter how apparently depressing their topic. For example, the story about a father who must be institutionalized, "Town & Country," opens with the fact that "Dad literally could not remember to not screw the sixty-year-old lady across the street," and creates for the man in question an outlaw assisted living center in a seedy, one-story motel in northern Idaho where the meatloaf is still $2 and all the drinks are doubles. The climate change story, "The Way the World Ends," brings two very depressed Ph.D. students to Mississippi State University to vie for a position in the geosciences department, then throws them together with a three-weeks-out-of-the-closet, very lonely college student named Jeremiah who's trying to decide whether it's worth risking life and limb to march in his first Gay Pride parade. What one of the "climate zealots" says to defend his newfound love of country music resonates through the collection: "Life is hard, the songs seemed to say, but at least it's funny, and it rhymes." Not sure why the author is in such a good mood, but it's contagious. Prepare for delight. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.