When Place Take Center Stage in the Story

Novelist Jess Walter has spent most of his life in Spokane, WA, and a lot of that time wanting to leave.

He expresses his ambivalence about Spokane in a cleverly written piece, “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington,” which mixes Spokane fun facts with pathos-filled anecdotes about life in that city. The piece, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly 37, does not seem to be available online, but you can get a little of the flavor of it in a blog post by Luke Baumgarten.

Walter read “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington” during a talk at a library about an hour away from me (in fact, a town between here and Spokane) last night. The author utterly charmed the audience with his storytelling.

I had read just one of his novels, Citizen Vince, which I gave only a grade of B because I don’t really enjoy stories about the mob, and [SPOILER ALERT] the book includes a gratuitous and brutal dog killing. But I certainly recognize Walter’s superlative writing ability and humor and would love to read more of his work.

In addition to Citizen Vince, Spokane has been the setting for a couple of Walter’s other novels and several of his short stories. His love/hate relationship with Spokane clearly is important to his storytelling.

On the drive to and from Walter’s presentation, my husband and I appreciated, as we do just about every waking moment, the beauty of the Eastern Washington scenery.

I feel completely inadequate as a writer because I have never been able to convey the meaning, power, transformative quality, and wonder of having found this glorious place to live three years ago this week. We were coming out of a rough time in our lives, and this place was exactly the medicine we needed to heal us. We know it will sustain our souls for the rest of our lives. Like Jess Walter, we know on a profound level what it’s like for a place to become such an important component in one’s story.