The Angel of Rome: And Other Stories

What makes the writing of Jess Walter (We Live in Water; Beautiful Ruins) is the tremendous humanity of his characters, and in the collection of stories The Angel of Rome, Walter's gift is on full display. It's not just that the characters are well-drawn, though they are. It's that the ordinary people populating his dozen stories think and feel extraordinary things, notions at once remarkable and as familiar as a favorite shirt.

In "Fran's Friend Has Cancer," the dialogue between Max and Sheila is so typical it could have been transcribed from a conversation overheard in a restaurant; in fact, that's exactly what it is, each word captured by the student sitting next to them. The turn this story takes is clever and shows off Walter's considerable wit, but it is the couple's banal (and hilarious) conversation that sets the stage and Max's despairing reflection that steals it: "Getting old... is not a drift or a dream or a story. It is an unimaginable loneliness, the loss... of everything." The title story lets screenwriter Jack Rigel look back across decades to when he first visited Rome and felt himself becoming a writer. He knows what Walter knows: "You're just trying to create feelings. It's what works on the page. On screen. In life."

The Angel of Rome offers all these things: the bitter with the sweet; the sweeping passage of time and the single moment; and raucous comedy mingled with quiet tragedy. It's what works. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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