I think the only theme I was working with was empathy.
There’s a story in the book called “Thief,” which is an exercise in empathy that I’ve given writing students that I got from my friend Sam Ligon, who I think got it from Francine Prose or Amy Hempel or somebody. You take something from your past that you’re somewhat ashamed about and you write about it from another character’s point of view. So I was writing this detective story about a father trying to figure out which of his kids is a thief, and I was, of course, the thief. For me they were writing exercises in empathy, often. If that can be a theme, that’s a theme that bubbled through: looking at these hard lives and finding some human connection that we would all share.
Wait a minute, Jess Walter is a guy? All this time I thought he was a woman…
Ah well, I love his Beautiful Ruins anyway.*
*I’m mostly kidding, but I do make a point to read more female authors than male, so that’s what I get for assuming based on a name.