Review: Why Stuff Matters by Jen Waldo

WHY STUFF MATTERS
by
JEN WALDO
  Sub-genre: Literary Fiction / Humor
Publisher: Arcadia Books
Date of Publication: June 4, 2019 (US)
Number of Pages: 212
 
When Jessica, a grieving widow, inherits an antique mall from her mother she also inherits the stallholders, an elderly, amoral, acquisitive, and paranoid collection. 
 
When one of the vendors, a wily ex-con named Roxy, shoots her ex-husband, she calls on Jessica to help bury the body and soon Jessica is embroiled in cover-ups, lies, and misdirection. Into this mix comes Lizzie, Jessica’s late husband’s twelve-year-old daughter by his first marriage, who’s been dumped on Jessica’s doorstep by the child’s self-absorbed mother and it soon becomes apparent that Lizzie is as obsessed with material possessions as Jessica’s elderly tenants. 
 
Why Stuff Matters is a compelling ode to possession, why people like things and the curious lengths they will go to keep them. Returning to her fictional Caprock, Waldo turns her wry wit on the lives of those afraid to let go.
 
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Review

As per usual, I judged this book by its cover and immediately liked it. There’s a longstanding family joke where 3-year-old me proclaimed that my father’s favorite color was yellow (it wasn’t) and years later my college car was named Pichu because it was yellow. Hence, I really dig the color of this cover. Who knew that yellow, black, and negative white space could be visually interesting and soothing at the same time? I like the clean lines and the artistic simplicity conveyed by the hodgepodge of items: typewriter, phone (later discovered to be a tablet), baseball cards, bottles, urn, gun, suitcase, band instruments, safe, and bicycle. My second or third thought was that either the person in this story has a strange style of decorating or it takes place in a pawnshop.

I was wrong, but only just. The main character, Jessica, does have a strange style of decorating, but only because she doesn’t really care. And there are a few pawnshops that do business within the antique mall that Jessica inherits from her mother who passes away. Bit by bit, you get to know Jessica and why she acts the way she does. The slow reveal reminds me of cooking a stew. You can’t rush it or your protein will come out too tough. You have to keep it low and slow so that everything comes out tender and full of flavor. Well, Jessica is still pretty tough by the end of this book, but I would imagine she would be like beef jerky in a thin tomato base if she didn’t get to control the flow of things.

This is one of those books where I didn’t necessarily like all of the characters, but they were all very real to me. Waldo has a no-nonsense style of writing that never made me question her perspective on things. There were no games and the mystery had low stakes, but I was still eager to read on and find out what happened next. While Jessica is able to predict everyone’s next move or thought, I was taken by surprise many times. Not huge, ‘whoa, what was that?!’ kind of surprise, but a thoughtful, ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming at all.’

And I think that’s the true beauty of this book. Nothing flashy or over the top, but real people with real issues. Hint: Try not to obsess over right or wrong. Just enjoy the ride. And although the story doesn’t really travel far, it’s an experience all the same. I could see Wes Anderson directing the movie version of this if the author wanted a lowkey vibe on the screen. If Waldo wanted a little more whimsy, then I would say get Greta Gerwig to direct. Either way, the colorful characters and understated storytelling are the perfect recipe for a cult classic. It wouldn’t even require a Breakfast Club outro for you to realize exactly Why Stuff Matters.

Jen Waldo lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period and has now settled, along with her husband, in Marble Falls, Texas. She first started writing over twenty years ago when, while living in Cairo, she had difficulty locating reading material and realized she’d have to make her own fun. She has since earned an MFA and written a number of novels. Her work has been published in The European and was shortlisted in a competition by Traveler magazine. Old Buildings in North Texas and Why Stuff Matters have been published in the UK by Arcadia Books. Jen’s fiction is set in Northwest Texas and she’s grateful to her hometown of Amarillo for providing colorful characters and a background of relentless whistling wind. 

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1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Lone Star Book Blog Tours

One response to “Review: Why Stuff Matters by Jen Waldo

  1. Kristine Hall

    Love this review and your analogy to the slow cooker. Spot on. Thanks for the post!

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