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The Financial Lives of the Poets
by Jess Walter

Overview -

Meet Matt Prior. He's about to lose his job, his wife, his house, maybe his mind. Unless . . .

In the winning and utterly original novels Citizen Vince and The Zero, Jess Walter ("a ridiculously talented writer"--New York Times) painted an America all his own: a land of real, flawed, and deeply human characters coping with the anxieties of their times.  Read more...


 
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More About The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
 
 
 
Overview

Meet Matt Prior. He's about to lose his job, his wife, his house, maybe his mind. Unless . . .

In the winning and utterly original novels Citizen Vince and The Zero, Jess Walter ("a ridiculously talented writer"--New York Times) painted an America all his own: a land of real, flawed, and deeply human characters coping with the anxieties of their times. Now, in his warmest, funniest, and best novel yet, Walter offers a story as real as our own lives: a tale of overstretched accounts, misbegotten schemes, and domestic dreams deferred.

A few years ago, small-time finance journalist Matthew Prior quit his day job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse. When his big idea--and his wife's eBay resale business-- ends with a whimper (and a garage full of unwanted figurines), they borrow and borrow, whistling past the graveyard of their uncertain dreams. One morning Matt wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. Is this really how things were supposed to end up for me, he wonders: staying up all night worried, driving to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night to get milk for his boys, and falling in with two local degenerates after they offer him a hit of high-grade marijuana?

Or, he thinks, could this be the solution to all my problems?

Following Matt in his weeklong quest to save his marriage, his sanity, and his dreams, The Financial Lives of the Poets is a hysterical, heartfelt novel about how we can reach the edge of ruin--and how we can begin to make our way back.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780061916045
  • ISBN-10: 0061916048
  • Publisher: Harpercollins
  • Publish Date: October 2009
  • Page Count: 290


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Humorous

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 30.
  • Review Date: 2009-08-31
  • Reviewer: Staff

National Book Award–finalist Walter does for the nation’s bleak financial landscape what he did for 9/11 in The Zero: whip-smart satire with heart. Matt Prior quits his job as a business reporter to start Poetfolio.com, a Web site featuring poetry about finance, or “money-lit.” Unsurprisingly, it tanks, and Matt returns to the newspaper, only to be laid off with a meager severance package. Now not only are the Priors in danger of losing their house, but Matt is convinced that his wife, Lisa, is having an affair with an old boyfriend she rediscovered during her lengthy nightly Facebook sessions. With two sons in overpriced Catholic school and his increasingly senile father to support, Matt’s bank accounts dwindle amid his financial planner’s dire predictions (diagnosis: “fiscal Ebola”). When an appealing but illegal moneymaking opportunity presents itself, Matt jumps at the chance. The decision to include snippets of Matt’s poetry in the novel was a risky one, but Walter pulls it off, never resorting to pretension or overused metaphors for life’s meltdowns. (Oct.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Seduced and betrayed by the American dream

Matt Prior is not the sharpest tool in the shed. A business reporter, he left his job at a daily paper just as newspaper jobs were becoming scarce enough to seem worth keeping. Worse, he quit in order to start a website devoted to reporting the financial news as poetry. Not exactly a sure thing. Meanwhile, his adorable wife, Lisa, went on a shopping binge, and the combination of those two factors led the Priors to borrow repeatedly against their house. The website, it probably goes without saying, failed, and the family is now getting by on Lisa's pay as a secretary, although "getting by" is an exaggeration: what Matt knows, and Lisa doesn't, is that they're a week away from losing the house. Matt has a plan, but his plan, incredibly, might be an even worse idea than starting a financial-poetry website.

Jess Walter excels at writing topical novels. His 2006 hit, The Zero, dealt with the aftermath of 9/11; Citizen Vince tackled witness protection and the significance of voting. Now he's written a story about the recession, a topic so fresh we're still in it. The Financial Lives of the Poets is a tougher sell—partly because a global economic downturn holds less drama than organized crime or a terrorist attack, but mostly because, this time around, Walter lacks a tough guy to hang the story on. Matt is kind of a screw-up. He knows he's a screw-up, but that doesn't mean it's any less frustrating to watch him keep making bad decisions. He's probably a more realistic character than the heroes of Citizen Vince and The Zero. Like many, he's been seduced and betrayed by the American dream, but he's still helplessly drawn toward it. Every time he catches the tiniest break, he starts doing Ponzi-scheme math to figure out how he can leverage that little bit into a lot. It never works.

Walter's consistently sardonic, smarty-pants narrative voice turns this bleak tale into an entertaining romp. He's a master of the vernacular: the "conversations" between Matt and the pot-smoking guys he meets at a 7-11 are spot on, if dishearteningly vapid. The plot gets very crowded and the realism grows thin in the book's second half, but Walter's message comes through loud and clear. As a reader, you hope things work out for Matt. But you can't help thinking it's against the odds.

Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

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Jess Walters' website. 

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