The stories of We Live in Water (Harper Perennial, $14.99) combine Jess Walter’s flare for the humorous with the desperation of poverty, bad luck, and poor choices. Walter, author of the critically acclaimed novel Beautiful Ruins, focuses on a range of characters here, men who are sometimes petty, like a suspicious father convinced his children are stealing from the vacation fund, and sometimes cruel, as with the protagonist of the title story, who unravels in his final moments of fatherhood. But they can also be tender, like Wade in “The Wolf and the Wild,” who is convicted of fraud but tries to make a difference to the kids he tutors. Jess Walter can turn a phrase, write despair, or make you laugh out loud—often all in the same piece.
The stories collected in The Angel Esmeralda (Scribner, $24) were written over the course of novelist Don DeLillo’s long and distinguished career. Like his novels, they display the author’s penchant for looking behind societal, institutional, and personal curtains to show, in language and gesture, the reality underlying everyday life In the title story an elderly nun working in one of the poorest sections of New York tries to help a teen-aged runaway girl. The interactions of life, memory, and image surface as Sister Edgar confronts the notion of the miraculous after the girl’s death. In another story, two astronauts aboard an orbiting space craft monitor World War III from above after successful nuclear disarmament has made the world safe for war. While the stories are diverse, they share DeLillo’s impeccable prose and his unfailing eye for seeing the world stripped of the inessential.