jess walter

Just like money

“Words and emotions are simple currencies. If we inflate them, they lose their value, just like money. They begin to mean nothing. Use ‘beautiful’ to describe a sandwich and the word means nothing. Since the war, there is no more room for inflated language. Words and feelings are small now—clear and precise. Humble like dreams.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

But aren’t all great quests folly?

“But aren’t all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos—we know what’s out there. It’s what isn’t that truly compels us. Technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple short car rides and regional jet lags—four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon—but true quests aren’t measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant—sail for Asia and stumble on America—and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

Our stories go in every direction

“Imagine truth as a chain of great mountains, their tops way up in the clouds. Writers explore these truths, always looking out for new paths up these peaks.”

“So the stories are paths?” Pasquale asked.

“No,” Alvis said. “Stories are bulls. Writers come of age full of vigor, and they feel the need to drive the old stories from the herd. One bull rules the herd awhile but then loses his vigor and the young bulls take over.”

“Stories are bulls?”

“Nope.” Alvis Bender took a drink. “Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. Governments change, trends rise, and they go on conquering their neighbors. Like the Roman Empire, the epic poem stretched for centuries, as far as the world. The novel rose with the British Empire, but wait… what is that rising in America? Film?”

Pasquale grinned. “And if I ask if stories are empires, you’ll say—”

“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story… your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins