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The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might just possibly be able to save it all . . . and have a pretty damn great time doing it.


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The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might just possibly be able to save it all . . . and have a pretty damn great time doing it.

30 review for The Financial Lives of the Poets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    I recall standing in Seattle's Queen Anne Bookstore on a rainy late autumn afternoon in 2009, reading the jacket of this book and ultimately, passing. I wasn't familiar with Jess Walter, although this book seemed to be making quite the splash. I was, however, all too familiar with the effects of the global recession and I just wasn't ready to find it funny. Nope. Not yet. In fact, that very bookstore became one of its casualties a few years later. Fast-forward into a new decade. Jess Walter has I recall standing in Seattle's Queen Anne Bookstore on a rainy late autumn afternoon in 2009, reading the jacket of this book and ultimately, passing. I wasn't familiar with Jess Walter, although this book seemed to be making quite the splash. I was, however, all too familiar with the effects of the global recession and I just wasn't ready to find it funny. Nope. Not yet. In fact, that very bookstore became one of its casualties a few years later. Fast-forward into a new decade. Jess Walter has become one of my favorite contemporary American writers. And although the effects of the recession are no less unfunny, time and perspective have only strengthened the relevancy of this book, if for the sheer amazement that America seems to have learned few lessons from its time teetering on the precipice of collapse. The cost of housing in Seattle is once again approaching the stratosphere; more than ever, it has become a City of Have More Than Anyone Else. But The Financial Lives of the Poets isn't set in that shining city on the Sound. It's set in perennially grim Spokane, Walter's home, the conservative capital of the Northwest's Inland Empire. Spokane's a bit stalwart, a bit stale, but solid, uncompromising, built on farming fortunes. A good place to raise a family. As long as you don't hang out at the 7/11. As long as you don't bet your family's financial security on a website that offers financial advice in poetic form. I mean really, what could go wrong? Matt Prior has been out of work for a while. When things were flush—only a few days ago, it seems—he and his wife Lisa bought their dream house (more than they could afford of course, but remember when home loan companies were just THROWING money at us?) and Matt poured money into the stock market, congratulating himself for investments that seemed sure bets. She had a good job, he bid a snarky adieu to the crumbling newspaper biz to launch poetfolio.com, and for a heartbeat, the future was theirs. Then the economy collapsed. You can guess what happens next. Personal Finance Shitstorm. As the story opens, forty-six-year-old Matt has less than a week to make a $31,000 balloon payment on his mortgage. He and his wife, Lisa, have no health insurance. Their savings, including once-flush 401(k)s, are tapped out, Lisa's working a crap job in an optometrist's office, Matt's dementia-inflicted dad has moved in, Catholic school tuition for their two elementary-aged sons is killing them (the Priors aren't even Catholic, but their neighborhood has stopped gentrifying and the local school is like Rikers Island for the Wii set), and Matt is fairly certain Lisa is having an affair with her high school sweetheart, Chuck. Could you blame him, then, for hanging out at the 7/11 with a bunch of satin tracksuit-clad white gangbangers, smoking weed and eating pork rinds? Could you blame him for seeing the financial opportunity in selling pot to his middle-aged friends, just until he can get his family out of their financial hole? Tapping the keg of American zeitgeist, Walter—à la Weeds and Breaking Bad—sends us down the rabbit hole of Very Bad Decisions made with Generally Good Intentions. Matt's insomnia imbues the narrative with a slightly surreal, hallucinatory glow, heightened by his pot-laced paranoia and Grandpa's dementia. There is tender relief offered by his two sons, reminding us that this is a book about the aspirations and failings of fathers, the vulnerability of sons, and how boys become men, or at least try to. The brilliance of Jess Walter is the LAUGH OUT LOUD caper crazies of his characters, who kill you with their cluelessness yet manage to retain such believable humanity, such depth of sincerity, that you cheer them on from one fuck-up to the next. Because there is always a sense of "There but for the grace of God, go I". We know and love and are embarrassed and infuriated by these people because they are us. The Financial Lives of the Poets is social satire with a warm, beating heart and fleshed-out, wounded characters who earn our compassion even as we are choking on our laughter. Oh, and that bookstore on Queen Anne that bit the recession dust? Some local residents and former employees banded together and resurrected it in 2013 as Queen Anne Book Company. It's going strong.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    Warning: The first part of this review consists of my idle musings on a topic that occurred to me while reading this book. If you don’t give a damn about that and just want to get on with the review, skip down. Ever notice how it seems like the same idea start showing up in a variety of tv shows, films, or books at roughly the same time? I’m not talking about the straight-up rip-offs that appear when something like The DaVinci Code hits it big or when trends like vampires or zombies become hot an Warning: The first part of this review consists of my idle musings on a topic that occurred to me while reading this book. If you don’t give a damn about that and just want to get on with the review, skip down. Ever notice how it seems like the same idea start showing up in a variety of tv shows, films, or books at roughly the same time? I’m not talking about the straight-up rip-offs that appear when something like The DaVinci Code hits it big or when trends like vampires or zombies become hot and spark countless films, books, comics, etc. to cash in. I’m talking about when a specific idea seems to come up repeatedly. For example, back in the ‘90s, Grosse Pointe Blank had a gag where a hit man was talking to a therapist. A year later, Lawrence Block had his contract killer Keller talking to a shrink in the book Hit Man.* Two years after that, psychiatrist Billy Crystal was giving advice to a mobbed-up Robert DeNiro in Analyze This. That same year saw the beginning of Tony Soprano’s relationship with Dr. Melfi. * Correction - Someone pointed out in the comments that Block wrote the short story Keller In Therapy before Grosse Pointe Blank came out. In the novel Hit Man Block took several Keller short stories and used them as bits for the novel, and I had only read the novel not the stories so I didn't realize that Block had beaten GPB to the punch as far as the idea of a hit man talking to a therapist. As a Lawrence Block fan, this makes me happy. None of these really seem like any form of plagiarism. Even though they all traded on the idea of a professional criminals talking to psychiatrists, they all did very different things with the concept. Yet, it always bugged me a little. I feel like David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, should be sending royalty checks and gift baskets to the Gross Pointe Blank screenwriters Lawrence Block. I got that same feeling while reading The Financial Lives of the Poets when a broke suburbanite turns to dealing pot to save his house. Didn’t Weeds already do this story? And hasn’t Breaking Bad earned acclaim for having a dweeb science teacher turn to dealing meth when facing cancer and huge medical bills? Other than that basic idea of a desperate law-abiding citizen becoming a drug dealer due to financial hardship, these stories have little else in common. And the idea of the ordinary person turning to crime due to extenuating circumstances has been done a million different ways. You can’t copyright a basic idea. (e.g. Superman led to countless rip-offs, but DC quickly found out that as long as the costumes and powers were slightly different, they lost most of their lawsuits because they couldn’t own the superhero concept.) But whenever I notice an incident of these similar ideas, it makes me think about where the line is as far as specific plot points. We now resume your regularly scheduled review. Matt Prior is in a bit of a pickle. He used to be a financial reporter who let the skyrocketing value of his home and a few good stock picks blind him to the huge debt he was accumulating. Plus, he made the spectacularly bad decision of quitting his newspaper job to start a website that combined financial news and poetry. When the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008, Matt finds himself jobless and on the verge of losing his house. He also has to try and take care of his father, who is suffering from dementia, and he’s pretty sure that his wife’s flirtation with an old boyfriend on Facebook is turning into something more serious. Plus, if he can’t afford the private school tuition for his two sons, he’s convinced that the shitty public school in his area will only teach his boys how to sharpen plastic spoons into shivs. When Matt does a late night convenience store run for milk, he meets some young stoners and ends up getting high with them. Realizing that the pot of today is much improved from the marijuana of his youth and that all the middle-aged people he knows would welcome the chance to buy some high-grade weed, Matt hatches a desperate scheme to use the last of his money to buy a couple of pounds of pot from his new stoner pals and re-sell it. This was an incredibly well-written book that uses dark humor to explore the economic abyss that many people found themselves in after the real estate bubble burst. Matt’s predicament is all too familiar, and his sadly funny reflections on how he followed the ‘expert’ financial advice right over the cliff is a grim reminder of how bad things have been for some people in the last couple of years. The book also deals with the guilt that Matt feels for not realizing sooner that his high-debt lifestyle could only have led to disaster. I had never heard of Jess Walter and picked this book up when the title caught my eye, and I saw a gajillion raving blurbs on the cover. I’ll definitely be checking out more of his work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ɗẳɳ 2.☊

    With all of those Breaking Bad/Weeds comparisons in Kemper’s most excellent review, I had rather high hopes for this one. And that opening act did little to dissuade my enthusiasm. “Here they are again—the bent boys, baked and buzzed boys, wasted, red-eyed, dry-mouth high boys, coursing narrow bright aisles hunting food as fried as they are, twitchy hands, wadding bills they spill on the counter, so pleased and so proud, as if they’re the very inventors of stoned.” And here he is, Matt, your With all of those Breaking Bad/Weeds comparisons in Kemper’s most excellent review, I had rather high hopes for this one. And that opening act did little to dissuade my enthusiasm. “Here they are again—the bent boys, baked and buzzed boys, wasted, red-eyed, dry-mouth high boys, coursing narrow bright aisles hunting food as fried as they are, twitchy hands, wadding bills they spill on the counter, so pleased and so proud, as if they’re the very inventors of stoned.” And here he is, Matt, your stereotypical white, middle-aged, douchebag waiting in line at the 7/11, after midnight, with the milk for his kid’s cereal that he’d forgotten to pick up earlier. Sleep has failed him yet again, what with the worry of financial ruin hanging over his head. He’s an out of work newspaper man, with an overdue mortgage, failing marriage, and a live-in father who’s slowing losing his mind to dementia. The internet has all but destroyed the newspaper industry, and with the economy in the toilet, what’s a guy gotta do to catch a break? “Nice slippers, yo,” one of the stoners comments, with a nod towards Matt, as he exits the store. Here’s a twentysomething, white, tattooed, hoodlum, with sagging pants and long hair, hitting the pipe right out in the open. “Wanna hit?” Matt waves him off and heads on towards his car. Hell, it’s been nearly fifteen years, back to his college day, since he’d smoked any weed. As he’s reminiscing over the good old days, making his way across the parking lot, he stops short, does a double take. Something causes him to hesitate to open that car door. Could it be all those fond memories, or that all too familiar smell, or the fact that his life is crumbling to ashes all around him, who’s to say? But the next thing he knows he’s agreed to give these guys a lift to a party. “Damn!” Matt suppresses a cough. Nose runs. Eyes burn. Someone is composting leaves in his throat. Scraping his lungs with a shovel. “Wow.” “Good huh?” ask Jamie. Matt hacks, “Not bad.” “Shit’s designer. Like thee hunnerd an ounce,” Skeet says. And with that, the wheels begin to turn. Matt begins to consider how weak the weed from his youth was compared to this stuff. What would his friends think of this designer shit? How many would want a taste? Could this possibly be the answer that he’s been searching for? The key to his salvation? If not, he could still maybe make some quick cash. Maybe enough to get his head above water. Hours later, stoned out of his gourd, back from yet another trip to the 7/11 for some munchies, Matt’s returned home with a big smile. “Because as fucked as the world is, as grim as the future surely seems to be, as grim as it revealed itself to be for his mother as she lay dying of the tumor that kills us all, there is a truth he cannot deny, a thing no creditor can take; even as his doomed boys stir in the cold unknowing of predawn sleep, even as the very life leaches out of him, soaks into the berber, into the cracks of his arid grave, he must grudgingly admit—that was one great goddamn burrito.” Ha! Great open chapter there, with and excellent, poetic conclusion. However, the problem is that the story continues, and the cold, hard reality sets in. What had begun as a hilarious romp thru 7/11 and stonerville, quickly devolves into a monotonous slog through the depressing loss of everything around him. A crushing, downward spiral of self-pity sets in. Conversations with his dad are repeated ad nauseam, due to his debilitating dementia. Matt becomes less and less amusing, as he rehashes the same old, tired jokes. There’s little to no character development, specifically with his wife, who’s nothing more than a cardboard caricature. But my biggest complaint is that there is no redemptive arc to the story—nothing to counter all that depression—simply a final, grueling, reality check. I don’t know if that’s your idea of a good time, but not me. Go cry into your pillow, Matt. I don’t need 250 pages to wallow in your misery. You can’t even get drug dealing right. If you ever made it into an episode of Breaking Bad, you’d be killed off in the first five minutes, for comic relief! What a chump! My advice—to anyone foolish enough to consider it anything other than misleading—do yourself a favor, read chapter one (5 stars), and chuck the rest (1 star). That alone would make for a brilliant short story, in my opinion.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tom LA

    I just fell in love with Jess Walter's "Beautiful Ruins", and I was really happy to see that he's been able to do his magic with this book too. The striking element in Walter's writing (in these 2 books at least) is his sense of humor, and that's where I see some readers not liking it because they just have a different sense of humor (or they just don't have one). I understand humor is a very personal thing. However, while many "funny" books are just shallow, stupid, unfunny, or absurd, or very I just fell in love with Jess Walter's "Beautiful Ruins", and I was really happy to see that he's been able to do his magic with this book too. The striking element in Walter's writing (in these 2 books at least) is his sense of humor, and that's where I see some readers not liking it because they just have a different sense of humor (or they just don't have one). I understand humor is a very personal thing. However, while many "funny" books are just shallow, stupid, unfunny, or absurd, or very often unbalanced structural abominations (especially the ones with idiotic comments on the cover like "I barfed with laughter all the way through", or "you will be laughing so hard your hemorrhoids will explode" or something very similar), "The Financial Lives" strikes a wonderfully clever balance between comedy and drama, between very light-hearted moments and intimate, touching scenes. And all of it fitting in a harmonious structure. It is a joy to read. It is elegant, alla Italiana. Do you have an idea of how hard it is to do that? To strike this kind of balance? It takes a very unique kind of alchemist, one who knows just how many drops of this and that substance is too little or too many. I also loved the inventiveness of the poetry. Yes, of course is a joke, a game. But it's poetry, as well. And it bears meaning, too. The best books are the ones where you can feel the writer's own enthusiasm and joy of writing, and I can say I felt that playfulness and joy all through the book, despite the very serious subjects. Hats off, Mr Walter. This is the kind of story-telling that I wish I was able to pull off in my fantasy life as a writer. madaimonna.blogspot.com

  5. 4 out of 5

    Oriana

    Yeahhhh, not a fan. I dunno, it's decently written and decently paced and decently plotted, but it's kind of too much of those things, a little too slick and too pat and too gimmicky. It started out strong, but deflated pretty fast. It's about a middle-class family in the throes of the mortgage crisis, who are about to lose their house. In a desperate last-ditch effort to get financially solvent, Dad (view spoiler)[becomes a small-time drug dealer (hide spoiler)] . The way this comes about is pret Yeahhhh, not a fan. I dunno, it's decently written and decently paced and decently plotted, but it's kind of too much of those things, a little too slick and too pat and too gimmicky. It started out strong, but deflated pretty fast. It's about a middle-class family in the throes of the mortgage crisis, who are about to lose their house. In a desperate last-ditch effort to get financially solvent, Dad (view spoiler)[becomes a small-time drug dealer (hide spoiler)] . The way this comes about is pretty weak, and the plot then gets a little twistier than I think the author fully had a handle on—I had a lot of yeah, right moments throughout. Additionally, one of the subplots is about how our protagonist, a former business journalist, had previously tried to start a financial poetry website, and so the book is peppered with weird poetry that is probably meant to not be that great because the character isn't a great poet, but that still = slogging through a lot of not-great poetry, which: no thank you. Plus it's very clearly written by a middle-aged white dude, and there are some, uh, demographically different characters whose speech is like what my own middle-aged white dad (who is a computer programmer, not a writer) might approximate if he had to guess what "thuggish kids these days" say—a lot of "bitch-ass" and "fuck-nuts" and "yo"s that fall pretty flat. And then finally, the end—starting from the climax and going all the way to the last page—is far far too pat, far too clean and well tied up and also pretty sappy. So that's a nope, and I don't imagine I'll be reading any more of Jess Walter. (I should have done a smidge of research & realized that his previous book was about September 11th. That probably would have been enough that I'd never have even picked this up.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg Zimmerman

    This is going to take some linguistic acrobatics. I'm going to spend the next 500 or so words trying to convince you that a story about bad choices, despair, near-financial ruin, and a failing marriage is one of the funniest, most charming, and downright best books you'll read in a long, long time. Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets is fantastic — an authentic and timely story, featuring cameos from the mortgage crisis, the slow death of newspapers, and the increasingly intense cultu This is going to take some linguistic acrobatics. I'm going to spend the next 500 or so words trying to convince you that a story about bad choices, despair, near-financial ruin, and a failing marriage is one of the funniest, most charming, and downright best books you'll read in a long, long time. Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets is fantastic — an authentic and timely story, featuring cameos from the mortgage crisis, the slow death of newspapers, and the increasingly intense culture wars. But Walter manages to keep it light, and it's just a whole lot of fun! The story goes like this: Middle-aged Matt Prior's comfortable upper-middle-class suburban life has imploded, and now he's like a guy in one of those air-blown-money-grab phone booths, trying to grasp at the tatters of his sanity. Two years ago, Matt had quit his secure job as a financial journalist to start a Web site in which financial advice is doled out in poetry form (hence, the novel is peppered with snippets of free verse). At the last minute, he got cold feet, went back to his newspaper, but was laid off four months later. Now, Matt is a few days from losing his house. And his wife, apparently fed up with how things have gone down lately, is ramping up a Facebook flirtation with an old boyfriend. But this all happened "off page." The novel actually begins in medias res with unemployed, increasingly desperate Matt (who I kept envisioning looking exactly like Walter's photo [at left] on the back flap) going out late at night to buy milk at a 7-Eleven. Offered a joint by a stoned teenager in the parking lot, Matt thinks "what the hell?" and spends the rest of the night out partying. Over the next few days, Matt agonizes over whether to confront his wife about her impending infidelity and attempts to navigate the maze of automated answering options to beg his mortgage holder for an extension. Finally, believing himself out of sensible options, he decides that the only way to make enough money to solve his problems is to leverage his new pot-smoking buds to help him make a massive marijuana purchase, which he'll then sell to middle-aged folk like himself who are nostalgic for happier times. This is the first of many terrible decisions that speeds Matt's demise. You know how when you spend way more than you wanted to on, say, a suit, and so then it's not hard to convince yourself that "hey, since I'm already way over budget, what's another $100?" So you pick up the silk tie, too. On a much grander scale, this is exactly what Matt does — bad decisions beget bad decisions, each time eroding any notion of possible consequences. Still, amazingly, by the end of the novel, you just feel terrible for him! The best part of this book is the writing. It's...just...fantastic.** The NY Times once called Walter "a ridiculously talented writer," and frankly there's no better way to put it than that. Like Beat the Reaper, this was an under-the-radar hit in 2009, and landed on many Best Of 2009 lists, including Time's, which is very, very well-deserved. Do yourself a favor — read this! **If you're interested, here is my favorite passage from the book. The setup: Matt has gone to the home improvement store where his wife's Facebook flirt works to do some anonymous reconnaissance. He's pretending to be building a tree fort for his two sons: "He stops in the aisle of how-to books and clicks his tongue as he runs his hand across the spines of books that show how to do simple electrical work and how to repair and carburetor and how to fix a clogged sink and how to build a porch and how to stain your fence and, finally, how to build a tree fort. This long bookshelf seems taken directly from my insecurities — an entire library of things I cannot do. In the next aisle of this hell-library would be books about how to manage your billions and what to do with your foot-long penis."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Richard Russo, one of my favorite writers, was asked a while back to name some recent books he’d enjoyed. He rattled off a few titles then ended his list with “anything by Jess Walter.” I can see why. Walter is funny, writes as though it’s an easy thing to do, reveals what we recognize as true human nature, and creates characters who aren’t perfect, but you find yourself pulling for anyway. In other words, he’s a lot like Russo. This particular one may not reach the same heights as Citizen Vince Richard Russo, one of my favorite writers, was asked a while back to name some recent books he’d enjoyed. He rattled off a few titles then ended his list with “anything by Jess Walter.” I can see why. Walter is funny, writes as though it’s an easy thing to do, reveals what we recognize as true human nature, and creates characters who aren’t perfect, but you find yourself pulling for anyway. In other words, he’s a lot like Russo. This particular one may not reach the same heights as Citizen Vince (the best of the four Walter books I’ve now read), but it’s still entertaining. On the face of it, the plot might seem silly. Matt Prior quit his job with the newspaper to launch a website devoted to financial news and commentary presented entirely in blank verse. In the meantime, his beautiful but perhaps less than faithful wife developed an eBay addiction. Their financial situation was understandably dire. The story begins at a 7-Eleven where Matt falls in with a pack of dope-smoking slackers. His schemes for getting back on track seem to have been influenced by the new, pharmacologically advanced pot that he sampled. Trouble ensues, along with a dark and sarcastic form of hilarity. The Financial Lives of the Poets is well worth the small investment in time. And there’s plenty of great dialog to make it livelier still. My only criticism is that it seemed almost too easy. When a track star runs the mile, we’d be disappointed if he’s not breathing hard, even if he finishes below 4 minutes. Walter said in an interview at the end of the book that it took him a very short while (not more than a few months) to put this one together. Be that as it may, I contend that the hastily constructed ramblings by a talented guy like Walter are far better than the ponderous works by the multitudes of lesser lights.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    If I were a publisher, I’d fight to publish Jess Walter. He writes funny literary commercial novels with mass appeal, and I’m happy to be part of his adoring public. The Financial Lives of Poets is my fourth Walter book, and my favorite so far: Unemployed business journalist and American Dream-addict Matt Prior’s downward spiral into inept drug dealing is not dark, because he’s so honest about his desperation and idiot attempts to save his and his family’s behinds. I loved everybody in this book, If I were a publisher, I’d fight to publish Jess Walter. He writes funny literary commercial novels with mass appeal, and I’m happy to be part of his adoring public. The Financial Lives of Poets is my fourth Walter book, and my favorite so far: Unemployed business journalist and American Dream-addict Matt Prior’s downward spiral into inept drug dealing is not dark, because he’s so honest about his desperation and idiot attempts to save his and his family’s behinds. I loved everybody in this book, and mostly I love Jess Walter for applying his fine literary technique to such a sweet story that you can feel his love.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    A former financial journalist decides to branch out into a new, innovative field - financial news presented in poetic form! Unfortunately poetfolio.com doesn't take off and leaves him with a mountain of debt. Couple that with his wife's eBay addiction, his weeks of unemployment, and the financial crash of 2008 and he soon finds himself 1 week away from eviction from his dream house. At a loose end one night, he encounters some stoners and begins to think about dealing weed to get out of his imme A former financial journalist decides to branch out into a new, innovative field - financial news presented in poetic form! Unfortunately poetfolio.com doesn't take off and leaves him with a mountain of debt. Couple that with his wife's eBay addiction, his weeks of unemployment, and the financial crash of 2008 and he soon finds himself 1 week away from eviction from his dream house. At a loose end one night, he encounters some stoners and begins to think about dealing weed to get out of his immediate cash troubles. Add to this his wife pursuing an old high school crush via Facebook, his dementia-ridden father who was bilked out of his savings and house by a stripper and her boyfriend, and the perils of the drug dealing world, and you have "The Financial Lives of the Poets". I loved Jess Walter's book "Citizen Vince" and followed it immediately with "The Zero", a more experimental difficult read that I failed to finish and which put me off Walter for a bit. I'm glad I came back to check out his latest though as it was a fantastic novel with some excellent characters and a brilliant storyline. I particularly enjoyed/cringed at Matt (the main character) and his wife Lisa's strained marriage as the tension between them builds and the distance between them grows. It felt very real and was the first time I'd seen some of the less positive effects of Facebook reflected in a novel. Matt's encounters with the drug dealers was also interesting with a paranoid lawyer thrown into the mix making for lively conversations. I would ignore the Nick Hornby blurb which claims that it's an hilarious book as it really isn't. Some of the scenes are light hearted and a bit silly but overall it's a serious novel. This isn't a bad thing though as the writing is top notch, the story doesn't need gags to keep the reader interested, and the characters are wonderfully realised to keep you invested in what happens to them. Matt's relationship with his dementia addled father is particularly touching. Also the ending is remarkably good, Walter showing he is a writer who can write all aspects of a novel brilliantly, beginnings, middles and ends, a rare thing in writers. One of the best novels I've read all year, original, well written, imaginative, with great characters, a fast moving and interesting story. I can't recommend this higher to anyone looking for a good book to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Misty

    Jess Walter has, in short shrift, become my single favorite contemporary author. I was first introduced to his work through his contribution to the series of short stories in the Amazon Warmer cli-fi collection, where he was absolutely brilliant. This innovative novel has only solidified my fan status. The Financial Lives of the Poets opens with an introduction to Matt, an out-of-work journalist fresh off of a failed business attempt to meld poetry and financial articles in an online format—and i Jess Walter has, in short shrift, become my single favorite contemporary author. I was first introduced to his work through his contribution to the series of short stories in the Amazon Warmer cli-fi collection, where he was absolutely brilliant. This innovative novel has only solidified my fan status. The Financial Lives of the Poets opens with an introduction to Matt, an out-of-work journalist fresh off of a failed business attempt to meld poetry and financial articles in an online format—and in debt up to his eyeballs. The piece then proceeds to chronicle Matt’s desperate, yet hilarious, attempts to save his home, his family and himself. From his first encounter with a group of twenty-something stoners at a 7/11 to his eventual run in with law enforcement, Matt stumbles forward whilst consistently taking two steps back. His less-than-truthful wife, his increasingly senile father and his new weed-smoking friends are all along for the ride and add just enough color to keep the reader from falling into a funk over the existential overtones that don’t reconcile until the bitter end. The novel moves between chapters, intertwining prose and poetry in a Shakespeare-worthy plot that hovers somewhere between comedy and tragedy. The writing in both formats is beyond genius, as evidenced here, in a passage that left me in awe of this writer’s talent: http://a.co/3FjGtNN. This is a novel for those who love language and can appreciate a dry wit that is at once self-deprecating and self-indulged. If I could rate this beyond five stars, I absolutely would do so. For now, however, five will have to suffice! If you haven’t yet read Jess Walter, this is the perfect place to start.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Heard good things about this book and since it was "if you like that one, you'll like this one" book recommendation from what was my favorite read of last year, Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You," I thought I'd give it a shot. I can see why the books were grouped together as Tropper's Judd Foxman is in a similar mid-life-ish crisis/downward spiral mode as Matt Prior, whose life is in disarray after his dream of a financial poetry website (poetfolio.com!) spectacularly crashes and bur Heard good things about this book and since it was "if you like that one, you'll like this one" book recommendation from what was my favorite read of last year, Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You," I thought I'd give it a shot. I can see why the books were grouped together as Tropper's Judd Foxman is in a similar mid-life-ish crisis/downward spiral mode as Matt Prior, whose life is in disarray after his dream of a financial poetry website (poetfolio.com!) spectacularly crashes and burns in tandem with the US economy. All credit to Jess Walter for turning around a book so quickly on the dark/flip side of the American dream and the accompanying wake-up up call of living beyond one's means and having each and every one those proverbial chickens coming home to roost. While this sounds mighty depressing, Jess Walter presents it all in a very funny, snarky, satirical way. Matt is so down-trodden you can't help but sympathize with him even despite all the bad choices he has made in the past and continues to make through this novel. Given the similar nature/tone of the two books, I was unfairly comparing it to Tropper's book and when the book takes a turn that I thought to be fairly derivative of sub-plot the Showtime series "Weeds," I started having my doubts about it. But there is so much more going on here... from little gems about raising kids to caring for an aging parent (this part is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking) to one's alternative online and cell-phone life, made it break free from any comparative baggage I brought to it. Ultimately it turns into a quite heart-felt story of redemption and reevaluation. I'd give it 4.5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    Seems to me that one's tolerance for this book is going to be directly proportional to how "winning" one finds the main character. At the 100-page mark, there's very little about him that I find appealing. To the extent that he is credible as a character at all, and not just an authorial gimmick that should have been strangled at birth, he is remarkably irritating. Or maybe it's Jess Walter that is the real irritant. So far the author he most reminds me of is Neal Pollock, which - I hope I don't Seems to me that one's tolerance for this book is going to be directly proportional to how "winning" one finds the main character. At the 100-page mark, there's very little about him that I find appealing. To the extent that he is credible as a character at all, and not just an authorial gimmick that should have been strangled at birth, he is remarkably irritating. Or maybe it's Jess Walter that is the real irritant. So far the author he most reminds me of is Neal Pollock, which - I hope I don't need to say - is not a good thing. The conceit of having his main character quit his job as a reporter to set up a website to dispense financial news and advice in free verse may have seemed like it had potential, but Walter does nothing interesting with it, so that in fact it's just stupid and annoying. Still, I'll give him another 50 pages to start to get his act together before ditching this book entirely. Well, OK. I did finish the book - Walter did manage to make his main character sufficiently engaging to keep one reading. But, at the end of the day, after watching Matt make one truly awful choice after another, one is left asking - "is that all there is?" Intermittently entertaining, but ultimately pointless. I can't really recommend this one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Bock

    Do you ever read one book, usually a break-out book, from an author and wonder where did he/she come from? What else have they written? That was the case with me with Jess Walter. I read his recent Beautiful Ruins and loved it. So, I picked up The Financial Lives of the Poets (what a risky, terrifically provoking title) and loved it! It hits close to home -- a newspaper writer is laid off, on the brink of financial collapse, and on a late night excursion for over-priced milk for his two young so Do you ever read one book, usually a break-out book, from an author and wonder where did he/she come from? What else have they written? That was the case with me with Jess Walter. I read his recent Beautiful Ruins and loved it. So, I picked up The Financial Lives of the Poets (what a risky, terrifically provoking title) and loved it! It hits close to home -- a newspaper writer is laid off, on the brink of financial collapse, and on a late night excursion for over-priced milk for his two young sons, meets up with some local pot dealers. It's a wild ride after that -- with poetry included!! I love his use of descriptive language -- I love how he mixes genres in this work as he did in Beautiful Ruins. This is a must-read for any would-be writer of the modern American experience! Truly, author of LIE.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I honestly have no idea why people like this book. Why? Will someone tell me why? The whole thing can best be summed up by the fact that, while our protagonist is looking at a pile of lumber in his front yard his son says it looks like Jenga. This not only leads said character to cry because of how Jenga was once his son's favorite game, but also to *compare life to Jenga.* That's roughly the level of depth you're dealing with here. Since I can't understand what's meant to be good, I should at l I honestly have no idea why people like this book. Why? Will someone tell me why? The whole thing can best be summed up by the fact that, while our protagonist is looking at a pile of lumber in his front yard his son says it looks like Jenga. This not only leads said character to cry because of how Jenga was once his son's favorite game, but also to *compare life to Jenga.* That's roughly the level of depth you're dealing with here. Since I can't understand what's meant to be good, I should at least say what's not, huh? 1) The prose is 21st century tricky - sentences without verbs, lots of ellipses, witty dialogue and lists - but with no apparent purpose. 2) The first person narrative doesn't allow for any ironic distance between you and the main character. So if you find him an insufferable jerk, as I did, the book's a hard slog. It needn't be, I like lots of books filled with insufferable jerks, but not this one. 3) Of the two conceits in this novel, neither of which could actually do any literary work on its own, one is unbearably stupid, the other is hackneyed (there are *2 television series* featuring middle-aged drug dealers). There's nothing worse than cliched quirk. 4) The whole thing is roughly as mawkish as a 19th century novel in which the 'orphan' finally finds his mother, who is an heiress forced to give up said orphan by pirates acting on the order of her father, an evil businessman, who is thrown into gaol and has his possessions confiscated by the magistrate, who then gives them on to the mother and orphan. That's mawkish 5) It's about as funny as 300 pages of dad jokes can be I guess, i.e., you can't miss all the time, but you can miss most of it. 6) None of the characters are at all interesting: all the women are hot (that is also their only characteristic), and all the men - bar the one who is all blue-collar and traditional manly man - are dysfunctional, or assholes; the children are all innocent and charming. For real, there are hot, pleasant men, and there are dysfunctional, interesting, ugly women. 7) More personally, his attempt to transfer an Australian accent to print is awful; for a start, we don't drop the 'h' from the start of words. Perhaps I could go on. I feel bad, because the book is about important issues, and I'm sure it's hard as hell to write about lives being shaped by modern technology while also writing a satisfying narrative about financial crisis. I guess his other books are really good, and I'll probably give him another chance, since he's ambitious and can write well when he's not using the aforementioned trickery. But honestly, unless you think that being topical is the prime duty of a novel, avoid this one.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    I really loved Citizen Vince, and was slightly less enamored of The Zero. But Walter is up to his old tricks in ...Poets. What a goofball! He had me snorting with runaway laughter...everything is on the skewed side of perfectly possible...sort of like trying to reason with someone who's smoked too much pot. Their mind rotates, quickly at first, in smaller and smaller circles, until they reach some inevitable stupid conclusion, much like the protagonist in this book. Gets his life in a twist and I really loved Citizen Vince, and was slightly less enamored of The Zero. But Walter is up to his old tricks in ...Poets. What a goofball! He had me snorting with runaway laughter...everything is on the skewed side of perfectly possible...sort of like trying to reason with someone who's smoked too much pot. Their mind rotates, quickly at first, in smaller and smaller circles, until they reach some inevitable stupid conclusion, much like the protagonist in this book. Gets his life in a twist and continues to dig and dig until everything is completely buried. Adored the Aussie accent.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    For everyone who put their faith in the American dream, the bubble that would never burst, this book is for them. Matt Prior – the desperate narrator of The Financial Lives of the Poets – is truly everyman…a basically good person who is now scrambling to stay marginally solvent in the wake of the huge financial crash. Matt hasn’t had it so good recently: he left a dying career in journalism (in one of the most scathing and accurate indictments I’ve read about modern-day newspapers) to develop a w For everyone who put their faith in the American dream, the bubble that would never burst, this book is for them. Matt Prior – the desperate narrator of The Financial Lives of the Poets – is truly everyman…a basically good person who is now scrambling to stay marginally solvent in the wake of the huge financial crash. Matt hasn’t had it so good recently: he left a dying career in journalism (in one of the most scathing and accurate indictments I’ve read about modern-day newspapers) to develop a whimsical website using free verse poetry to dispense financial advice. Needless to say, not a huge market. On top of that, his shopaholic wife is on the verge of an affair with her hunky ex-boyfriend. His father, suffering from dementia, is sitting in the midst of his living room with the plaintive question, “Do you know what I miss?” The answer is inevitably either chipped beef or The Rockford Files. His two young sons may need to give up private school and enter a public school that’s the equivalent of the Iraqi combat zone. Oh, and have I mentioned that Matt’s accountant has just told him that he has “fiscal Ebola? He truly does. Based on bad financial advice to go for forbearance, a $31,000 balloon payment to the mortgage company is overdue, leading to almost immediate foreclosure. Small wonder, then, that Matt is attracted to two young stoners whom he meets in the 711 and cooks up a scheme…why not sell pot at a profit to get himself out of the hole? Yes, it sounds humorous – and it is. But Jess Walter revs it up a notch and addresses all the Matts in the world. Matt ruminates, “It’s almost as if Lisa and I deserve this. Or believe we do. And I don’t think we’re alone. It’s as if the whole country believes we’ve done something to deserve this collapse, this global warming, this endless war…We’ve lived beyond our means, spent the future, sapped resources, lived on the bubble.” At the end of the day, the blistering wisecracks and hold-on-to-your-seat twists and turns are secondary to the lesson imparted: that life is not meant to be fair, that our fantasies of what life “should” be is nothing compared to what really matters. Another recommended book that mines these themes: The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris.

  17. 5 out of 5

    M

    Yes, that's right. Five stars. Five. I loved this. I read it in one happy sitting, laughing out loud - literally, out loud - or just marveling at the wonderfulness. The premise is something close to my heart - the financial disaster, or to be more precise, the greed of the American Dream that caused a living nightmare - and combining, intriguingly enough, poetry. Love it! The book's narrator is your classic victim of banking on mortgages and credit only to fall splat when everything goes under, and Yes, that's right. Five stars. Five. I loved this. I read it in one happy sitting, laughing out loud - literally, out loud - or just marveling at the wonderfulness. The premise is something close to my heart - the financial disaster, or to be more precise, the greed of the American Dream that caused a living nightmare - and combining, intriguingly enough, poetry. Love it! The book's narrator is your classic victim of banking on mortgages and credit only to fall splat when everything goes under, and his desperate attempt to hold onto his possessions. Desperation leads, appropriately enough, to drug selling, since in truth, what is he trying to feed but his addiction to Stuff? There is a lot of beautiful symbolism to the novel, and some seriously funny one liners, observations and moments. There was depth, insight, touchingness and just really good times. Thank you, Jess Walter.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    After a doomed website venture unemployed finance journalist Matt Prior is on the verge of losing his home, his wife(who suspects she is having an affair) and probably his sanity,all while trying to look after his two young boys and a senile father who just wants to watch tv,but then stumbles on a change to become a short term drug dealer with what he thinks is a way to make some easy money,but of course things don't go according to plan.This was a nice easy read and had some great comic and hea After a doomed website venture unemployed finance journalist Matt Prior is on the verge of losing his home, his wife(who suspects she is having an affair) and probably his sanity,all while trying to look after his two young boys and a senile father who just wants to watch tv,but then stumbles on a change to become a short term drug dealer with what he thinks is a way to make some easy money,but of course things don't go according to plan.This was a nice easy read and had some great comic and heartfelt moments especially between father and sons also had really funny one-liners and although it's not a serious book it still carries an important message in these uncertain financial times that you can be living the american dream one minute and lose it all the next.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christine Boyer

    Hilarious, sarcastic, dry wit from beginning to end. I found myself laughing out loud several times. The main character was a mix of Walter White from Breaking Bad and Henry Holyoak Lightcap from Edward Abbey's, The Fool's Progress and Harry Angstrom from John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Cynical and a little angry about the hand he has been dealt. I read another book by Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, a couple years ago, which I enjoyed, as well. However, the stories and styles are so different, it's har Hilarious, sarcastic, dry wit from beginning to end. I found myself laughing out loud several times. The main character was a mix of Walter White from Breaking Bad and Henry Holyoak Lightcap from Edward Abbey's, The Fool's Progress and Harry Angstrom from John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Cynical and a little angry about the hand he has been dealt. I read another book by Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins, a couple years ago, which I enjoyed, as well. However, the stories and styles are so different, it's hard to believe they were written by the same author! This just shows Walter's talented range. My only criticism would be that I wish the wife character had been better developed. Also, it felt a little rushed and tied up too neatly at the end. And just a head's up, this story is NOT for everyone. Strong, first-person, male vibe with a lot of edgy commentary and jokes about the absurdity of our lives. I loved it!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Good god what a piece of garbage. This very-poorly-/misleadingly-titled book is about a guy who starts a website called poetfolio.com, which features "financial lit," i.e. financial advice in the form of free verse. The narrator (first person, shockingly) does some work to defend the idea, while admitting that it "might" sound stupid, but it's unclear whether the author thinks the idea is ridiculous, which means the narrator is an absolute idiot, or if the author thinks there actually is somethi Good god what a piece of garbage. This very-poorly-/misleadingly-titled book is about a guy who starts a website called poetfolio.com, which features "financial lit," i.e. financial advice in the form of free verse. The narrator (first person, shockingly) does some work to defend the idea, while admitting that it "might" sound stupid, but it's unclear whether the author thinks the idea is ridiculous, which means the narrator is an absolute idiot, or if the author thinks there actually is something to the idea, which is even worse. The book is filled with absurdly bad poetry, which again it's unclear if it's meant to be horrible and paint the narrator as a doofus, or not. Again, though, either way this narrator is a complete shithead with absolutely no redeeming qualities. I have no idea how we're supposed to root for this guy, or why, which is a huge problem for a novel, though it's one I find surprisingly common in these hypercontemporary books, wherein people spend time on MySpace, buy things on eBay, TM each other—wait, what? TM? No one calls it TM-ing, sir. And yet no commentary is made on this camel-cased brand-named society—the writer is only really here to try and be funny, which this book is most definitely not. Another thing. Sometimes it's called Facebook, sometimes it's FaceBook. Did no one edit this thing? Sometimes the band is called Blue-Eyed Jesus, sometimes it's called Blue Eyed Jesus. And, my god, please tell me that "Google-" (as in, cringe, Google minus??) was a typo. Mind, these are errors I caught while speeding through this terrible novel, which I bought because it was $2.50 and signed by the author. As for a plot, we begin with a narrator facing financial ruin because of the aforementioned poetfolio.com who goes out to buy milk and falls in with some college-age pot smokers. He decides to buy a ton of weed from these guys in hopes of making some quick cash and blah blah, until some drug task force turns him into a CI, and then things sort of work-out-by-not-really-working-out-but-it's-really-okay-everything-is-going-to-be-fine. Thin, stupid, and . . . my god, poetfolio.com. You just pray that wasn't the seed that grew into this book, the word poetfolio. Read through the poetry in here for a good laugh, or just avoid the book completely.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I was once the last guest still in town after a wedding. The happy couple had left for their honeymoon, the friends and family went home, but I had business in town and stayed a few extra days at the hotel. Because of this, I got all of the leftover cake--all of it. The cakes (there were three) had been made by the bride's extraordinary aunts, whose cake-making talents were reason enough for all of us to want to marry into this family. They made a rum cake, a bourbon cake and a kahlua cake. What I was once the last guest still in town after a wedding. The happy couple had left for their honeymoon, the friends and family went home, but I had business in town and stayed a few extra days at the hotel. Because of this, I got all of the leftover cake--all of it. The cakes (there were three) had been made by the bride's extraordinary aunts, whose cake-making talents were reason enough for all of us to want to marry into this family. They made a rum cake, a bourbon cake and a kahlua cake. What do you say when presented with those cakes other than MARRY ME? So there I was in a hotel room, with several large trays of this amazing cake, and that night I just sat in front of the TV and stuffed it into my face by the fistful. That's how I felt about this book. It was so deliciously funny and touching and real that I just could not stand to put it down. If I had a job, I would have called in sick to keep reading this book. I am grateful to any writer who can make me laugh out loud--and there were times, as I read this book, that I laughed so hard that it hurt and I was doubled over and it nearly turned into a medical crisis. Who doesn't love a book like that? It's not easy to come up with a cocktail that ties in directly to this novel--if I went with the characters' drinks of choice, it would be warm beer and pot--but here's a drink that is surprisingly delicious and as much fun to drink as this book is to read. And the name of the drink ties in perfectly with the novel's theme. Friends, I give you St. George Distillery's The Root of All Evil 1 oz absinthe 2 oz root beer Star anise for garnish Fill a short glass with ice and pour in absinthe. Top it off with a really good root beer, stir, and add garnish. Feel free to add a little more root beer to taste. Oh, and some people skip the ice and top it off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That could not possibly be a bad idea. And--as long as you're drinking absinthe, check out another absinthe recipe I posted recently.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carla Stafford

    Matt Prior is/was a newspaperman in recession times when newspapers had begun sinking torturously one by one. After losing his job at the paper, he took an unfortunate, yet creatively ballsy risk on a poetry site that gave financial advice...We meet Matt when he is on the brink of losing his house to foreclosure and his wife to an online affair with her high school boyfriend. Sounds hilarious, right? But somehow, Financial Lives of Poets manages precisely that. Jess Walters pulls off a wickedly Matt Prior is/was a newspaperman in recession times when newspapers had begun sinking torturously one by one. After losing his job at the paper, he took an unfortunate, yet creatively ballsy risk on a poetry site that gave financial advice...We meet Matt when he is on the brink of losing his house to foreclosure and his wife to an online affair with her high school boyfriend. Sounds hilarious, right? But somehow, Financial Lives of Poets manages precisely that. Jess Walters pulls off a wickedly sardonic wit, while tugging his readers' heartstrings, AND evoking reflection on the gluttonous entitlement that is often inherited as a part of one's American-ness. Walters forces a look at debt, excess, and greed not only as they relate to the U.S. economy, but at how they seep over into relationships and daily life. Readers pause a moment to read the possible side effects of the poison of our oft unspoken mantra, "Yes I have enough, but I could have more- my family and I deserve better." Everything I have read of Walters' deserves at least a solid four and a half stars...but I am rounding up. Over the past couple of years, Jess Walters has become one of my favorite writers, mostly because he writes characters that I love and can identify with, but also because of his humor and mad writing skills(z).;) He makes me feel clever for picking up on his numerous allusions and his sense of irony and dark humor keep me coming back for more. *I mentioned this in my check in, but it made me feel like SUCH a fan girl at the giddiness I felt finding Vince/Marty and his Picnic Basket restaurant in Financial Lives of Poets. Book Nerd much? YES! Thank you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark Womack

    I liked it. I didn't care for it. I identified with the character. I didn't. Jess Walter's style is unique, and different from one book to another. It's consistent from one to another. See a pattern here? He makes you really care, and then you go "WAIT a minute!" I Literally AM about to be in a similar financial situation as the main character here, but I doubt I'd go 'on a 3 am adventure' like him with the same results. The story starts to soar, then,....(I know, REALITY,.. Well, yeah, but not I liked it. I didn't care for it. I identified with the character. I didn't. Jess Walter's style is unique, and different from one book to another. It's consistent from one to another. See a pattern here? He makes you really care, and then you go "WAIT a minute!" I Literally AM about to be in a similar financial situation as the main character here, but I doubt I'd go 'on a 3 am adventure' like him with the same results. The story starts to soar, then,....(I know, REALITY,.. Well, yeah, but not exactly,..) I admire Jess, and will watch for his next book, BUT - I didn't care to read "The Zero" because of the subject matter, (I TRIED) and I found Vince of Citizen Vince hugely unlikeable,...so. I must add that Matt's dad makes the story moving. Loved the front yard wood scene, Although I sort of saw it coming. I highly recommend Jess Walter, (right, like MY opinion matters) but I believe he writes vastly different stories from one book to another. So in that essence his books are the box of chocolates,...who knows what we'll get next,..but I'll Definitely read it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike Lindgren

    Jess Walter's two previous novels—The Zero and Citizen Vince—showed him to be one of the finest novelists at work today. It's a bit of a letdown, then, to say that The Financial Lives of the Poets (awful title, by the way; the folks at Harper, as usual, clearly asleep at the switch) is a step sideways at best. The novel, which relates the misadventures of a downward-spiraling burgher named Matt, is a likable enough affair, with a soupçon of topical angst, but has little of its predecessors' zip Jess Walter's two previous novels—The Zero and Citizen Vince—showed him to be one of the finest novelists at work today. It's a bit of a letdown, then, to say that The Financial Lives of the Poets (awful title, by the way; the folks at Harper, as usual, clearly asleep at the switch) is a step sideways at best. The novel, which relates the misadventures of a downward-spiraling burgher named Matt, is a likable enough affair, with a soupçon of topical angst, but has little of its predecessors' zip or reckless urgency. Walter remains, however, a writer of great potential.

  25. 5 out of 5

    M. D. Hudson

    I don’t read many novels, so I am not sure how to categorize this book– not genre exactly (it is not a knitting mystery, or a romance) – this is, I suppose one of those quasi-literary novels come out of American Lit’s vast buffalo plains of novelists who might teach creative writing on the side (like all the poets do) but still hold out hope for literary fame and fortune (aka “a movie deal”). Slick, yet it has vague literary pretensions (the main character is named Matt Prior, after a forgotten I don’t read many novels, so I am not sure how to categorize this book– not genre exactly (it is not a knitting mystery, or a romance) – this is, I suppose one of those quasi-literary novels come out of American Lit’s vast buffalo plains of novelists who might teach creative writing on the side (like all the poets do) but still hold out hope for literary fame and fortune (aka “a movie deal”). Slick, yet it has vague literary pretensions (the main character is named Matt Prior, after a forgotten but once famous English poet; there was an Abe Cowley in there somewhere too, another forgotten English versifier). Other random signs of the author’s college education abound. The plot is reasonably plausible in a faintly picaresque way (spoiler!): Matt Prior, financial reporter pushing fifty, made some money dabbling in the market before the Housing Bubble, quit his job to start a financial advice website that is done with an eye to literature rather than the usual Wall Street blog stuff (there’s been stupider start ups). This doesn’t pan out and his overall financial situation falls apart. As the money dries up, his wife’s affections stray via texting and Facebook with her old high school boyfriend who runs a hardware mega-store owned by his family. Thanks to a chance encounter with some young Hispanic guys at a 7-11, Matt gets high, discovers pot is a lot better than it was when he was in college in the 1980s and so becomes a drug dealer (yeah, a lot like the TV show “Breaking Bad”). Things don’t work out but nobody gets shot. Although I’ve never been crazy about plots in general, this one perhaps reads better than it does in outline. Which is to say the plot isn’t exactly my problem… The problem is a kind of “Madame Bovary Dilemma” – how does a novelist portray moral shallowness, venality, and low-grade scheming in a way that makes it not only worth reading but also sympathetic? This book puzzles me in this aspect because the hero Matt Prior is a jerk and I cannot tell if Jess Walter is aware of this. Matt’s sense of humor, for instance, is appalling – coarsely “intellectual” and never quite clever-enough with a whole lot of cheap, automatic irony of the modern sort. Mostly I suspect the author thinks this pretty hot stuff and his hero pretty spiffy in general (and thus the sappy redemptive ending). Matt’s wife is also hollow (but still looks hot, the uxorious Matt keeps telling us in a vaguely creepy way). She shops too much and doesn’t have a thought in her head as far as I can tell. His senile father (who lives with them) is far too much a caricature and requires far too little actual, messy pee-and-poop kind of care. He serves as comic relief (if you find senility comical) until the end of the story when he serves as an agent of an outrageously sentimental redemption scene. My dissatisfaction with these characters is that nothing of substance ever happens to them – I mean stuff happens for sure - bad financial disaster stuff. Worrying about the kids stuff. And that is bad stuff, of course. But the life-changer stuff at the end feels quick and unearned. I felt these trivial people are miles away from Madame Bovary, or Tolstoy’s Ivan Illych. Jobs are lost, houses are lost, money is lost, spouses are lost, but I could never find anything as dire as a soul being lost. It was a TV show, finally: slick, cold, too-easily resolved and generally…trashy. But maybe we're all trashy these days. Which is to say there were times I thought this was a pretty competent portrayal of the deteriorating American middle-aged man getting left behind in a virtual world (a subject that I find uncomfortably interesting). The middle-class professional people are reasonably well-rendered in terms of dialogue and circumstances. I particularly liked Walter’s unsentimental (mostly) rendition of Matt’s two young sons. Also the pompous jerk of a manager at the failing newspaper was done well too. Where the book goes spectacularly wrong is when it delves into the unwashed masses – namely Hispanic pot-smoking youths and drug task force cops. The dialogue in these sections are ludicrous. Note to author: merely watching a few episodes of “Law & Order” could’ve sharpened up these sections. The poetry is doggerel and I get the feeling Walter was not trying for anything more. Prior's literary goals are those of a bored journalist who feels artistically underappreciated. He's a dabbler with a slick but unsuccessful idea to use "literature" to move some digital product. Poetry is taken far less seriously than second mortgages and faltering lifestyles. There is no "poet" in this book despite the title. And by poet, I include failed poets. Verse opens some of the chapters: It's so distracting how sexy the women are on the TV news. (p. 83) Chapter 13 "On the Spiritual Crises of Financial Experts" is entirely in verse: "This one admits to being a lifetime proponent of deregulation but now, on NPR, he doesn't know what to think -- I however, think of Mother Teresa, who at the end of her life admitted she'd had a crisis and had stopped hearing God's voice decades earlier, which had to be a bit of a relief, I'd think -- hard enough to live a perfect life without being hectored about it --give away everything, feed the poor, don't forget to love the lepers! -- but back to this disillusioned expert who says you could go to any business school in the country and learn the same lousy things he believe during those wasted years... (p. 133) As with a lot of plain-voice poetry, this isn't even good prose. It's just ham-handed irony done up with random acts of indentation and line-breakage. The kind of poetry written by novelists who think poetry is a cinch. (See Nicholson Baker's "The Anthologist" for a similar problem). This being said, the book has some virtues of the movie-film sort. By this I mean there is to me a difference between a movie and a film that has to do with intentions and viewer expectations. A movie sets out to entertain, and so long as it entertains, I’m okay with it – which is why I love, say, “Dumb and Dumber.” It does what it sets out to do. But on the other hand a film is meant to be taken seriously – it is meant to be Art – to “add to the available stock of reality” as Blackmur once said. When a movie fails, it is generally a failure of craft. When a film fails I am infuriated because the failure of craft is usually combined with pretense, bombast, arrogance, etc. (Malick’s odious “The Thin Red Line” is my favorite example because it is one of the few films (or movies) I actually found unendurable - I'm still haunted by Sean Penn's awful voiceovers). For me, a bad movie is merely a waste of time, but a bad film is an affront. “The Financial Lives of the Poets” is a “movie” kind of a book (and was written to be turned into a movie, I suspect), so I don’t find myself empurpled with rage the way I do when I read Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” (see my Goodreads review, if you want). “The Financial Lives of the Poets” is trashy, but even if blundered, it contains more actual believable detail - the World actually seems plausible some of the time. For instance, compared to Coetzee’s “Disgrace” or McEwan’s “Saturday” money and finances and working for a living are all treated with ka-ching realism. In “serious” novels these things – which is really consume so much of most of our lives – are treated as tiny ciphers scooted around in the background so the characters can get on with their existential posturings unimpeded. But then the problem of a trashy novel like this one is that the characters - which are not really ever meant to be taken seriously to begin with - will fail if a certain degree of cleverness and manipulation of sentimentality isn't reached by the author. Then the one-dimensionality of the characters - their predictable sitcom stock-character traits - grow tiresome fast. "The Financial Lives of the Poets" feels far more clever than it actually is which is another way of saying it isn't nearly clever enough. Note on text: my copy of this book was an uncorrected proof "not for sale" which I found at a thrift store. I assume the issued text is basically the same as what I read, but maybe not.

  26. 5 out of 5

    James

    It is, in parts very funny indeed. A unemployed journalist seeks a short term win and fails utterly while liberally imparting wisdom.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yair Ben-Zvi

    Amazing, Walter does it again with his latest novel. The Financial Lives of The Poets is a moving (and very funny!) story of failed poetry financial reporter (dead serious) slow then quick descent into near poverty while his marriage and family life deteriorate. More and more drastic solutions become necessary to Matt to not only maintain his way of life as an upper middle class american (post housing/finances crash) but to keep up his status as husband, father, and son (his mentally deteriorati Amazing, Walter does it again with his latest novel. The Financial Lives of The Poets is a moving (and very funny!) story of failed poetry financial reporter (dead serious) slow then quick descent into near poverty while his marriage and family life deteriorate. More and more drastic solutions become necessary to Matt to not only maintain his way of life as an upper middle class american (post housing/finances crash) but to keep up his status as husband, father, and son (his mentally deteriorating father lives in his house) culminating in a hare brained (can't believe i used that term) scheme to buy and sell pot. Reading this at first i thought i knew where it was going, older failed writer re-discovering pot, felt familiar. But Walter is clearly a master. Surprising at every turn with near faultlessly clear characters (not too many cliches regarding them or detailing) adding up to a collapsing american dream that, Walter convincingly makes his case, we have only ourselves to blame. This is a funny but sobering statement about american upward mobility and the costs of materialism. But Walter, again convincingly (definitively one of my favorite writers working today) shows that no matter how bad things get, and they can traipse close to oblivion in terms of all the old stand bys (marriage, success, family), there's hope or at the at very least a sliver of it. So yes, there's hope in the world that Walter shows not too different from ours, maybe, or at least hopefully.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kerfe

    The first reason to read this book is because it's funny and you'll enjoy it. The author captures the dysfunctional actions and cadences of speech and thought across generations and genders. But of course behind the humor (as is the case more often than not) looms the sad reality of life here and now, America in the 2000's, where citizens have bought into and been indoctrinated by consumer culture. Our lives are based on things, things we've gotten and lost, things we desire, things by which we j The first reason to read this book is because it's funny and you'll enjoy it. The author captures the dysfunctional actions and cadences of speech and thought across generations and genders. But of course behind the humor (as is the case more often than not) looms the sad reality of life here and now, America in the 2000's, where citizens have bought into and been indoctrinated by consumer culture. Our lives are based on things, things we've gotten and lost, things we desire, things by which we judge ourselves and others, things through which we express our attachments and emotions. The lives of these characters are out of control. They can no longer purchase or hold on to the identities they crave. Houses, vehicles, jobs, partners, schools, medical insurance, entertainment, vacations, gadgets, retirement...going going gone. There's a void when they try to replace their expectations with those they can afford. The old life can't be sustained. Which results in unresolved resolutions: "They're not necessarily parallel paths of course--what is right and what is best." The actions, words and thoughts of these characters have a messiness that feels sometimes uncomfortably true to the lives and the world we inhabit at this moment. "Hell we don't need bailouts, rescure packages and public works. We need more poets." Or perhaps only a little poetic justice.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ciara

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. can't say i cared for this. i'm not even sure why i picked it up. i'm relieved that i checked it out of the library, instead of buying it (not that i would have ever shelled money out for anything that involved poetry in event the most cursory way). i think maybe it was mentioned in "the new yorker," as part of a new trend of financial crisis novels, & i was curious about what a modern-day financial crisis novel might look like. i think this was a poor specimen. plot: family man dude heads to the can't say i cared for this. i'm not even sure why i picked it up. i'm relieved that i checked it out of the library, instead of buying it (not that i would have ever shelled money out for anything that involved poetry in event the most cursory way). i think maybe it was mentioned in "the new yorker," as part of a new trend of financial crisis novels, & i was curious about what a modern-day financial crisis novel might look like. i think this was a poor specimen. plot: family man dude heads to the 7/11 to pick up milk for his sons' morning cereal. he is bumming hard because he's unemployed (a former journalist who gambled on starting an investment website dispensing financial advice through poetry), a week away from losing his house to foreclosure, & he fears his wife is having an affair with her high school boyfriend. he meets some stoners, they let him smoke with them, one thing leads to another, & family man dude decides that chashing out his retirement fund (a whopping $9400 thanks to some very poor investments) & spending it all on pot & becoming a dealer is the way to get back on his feet. he pretty much immediately gets collared by a couple of cops at a coffeeshop & suckered into becoming a criminal informant. but he sucks at that too. the dudes he was buying from turn themselves in, family man dude spends a little bit of time in jail & then is out on probation, he loses the house & files for bankruptcy, his wife leaves him, & he ends up with a fairly low-paying job ($16,000 a year) with a start-up newspaper, living in an apartment with his sons, who now have to attend public school. i knew from the start that this wasn't really my kind of book. the narrative tone was too chummy. another reviewer here said that it seemed like walter was the novelist equivalent of a coffeeshop singer/songwriter, which is a pretty fair assessment. i hate coffeeshop singer/songwriters--it always seems like they're trying too hard to be casual, just like walter. it's like he was trying to lead me down the primrose path of this novel without giving me any reason whatsoever to want to go on the journey. & then, just a few chapters in, there's a poem about seeing a woman at a big box shopping outlet with her four kids, wearing her thong underwear peeking above the waistband of her pants. the poem-writer was very distressed that a mother would be wearing a thong. i am very distressed that men (either walter or the protaganist of the book, assuming the protag isn't just a stand-in for walter anyway) feel the need to morally legislate how women ought to be dressing before or after they bear children. like women are sexual eunuchs once they have kids. fuck you, asshole. i almost stopped reading then & there. i certainly abandoned the book for a few days. but i can never leave a book unread, so i powered through... i don't know if walter has any personal experience dealing weed. i do. not that i personally have done, but let's just say that i know A LOT about it, & the way it is portrayed here is ludicrous. it's obviously supposed to be maybe...shocking, in some weird suburban kind of way? it's pretty pathetic. i was emnbarrassed for the protaganist & all the other characters, i was embarrassed for walter for having written this crap, & i was embarrassed for every poor book reviewer out there who had to read & write about this shit for a paycheck. & i am embarrassed for every reader who might think they gleaned insight into drug dealing from reading this book. the worst part, though, was the way the book wound up--the conclusion. this solidly middle-class family with a big suburban tudor, kids in private parochial school, new car with heated seats, et al, loses it all due to poor decisions & a helping of bad luck due to the global financial crisis. my opinion is that mostly they made very bad decisions, such as allowing themselves to be talked into fancy car accoutrements they knew they didn't need, taking out a couple of lines of credit on their house, thinking their special snowflake children were too good for public school, the dad quitting his job to pursue this ridiculous investment poetry internet start-up (long after the cyber bubble burst), the mom getting hooked on online shopping, etc. but i feel like walter wanted the reader to think they were good people who got caught up in a crisis they had no hand in creating. it's the same story in that book i read at the end of the summer, the non-fiction one where the journalist guy who wrote the book makes pretty much all the same mistakes, minus the drug-dealing. no one is stopping to ask themselves if maybe the entire concept of american middle-class comfort should shoulder some of the blame, & if maybe the people buying into their "need" for a nice suburban house & private elementary schools & new cars with seat warmers weren't buying into the same fantasy as the financial ponzis who were bundling bad mortgages into lucrative securities. when the dad ends up in his not-so-great apartment & has to take the bus to work, he blames himself to an extent--for getting mixed up in the drug thing. but mostly he just feels sorry for himself. there's an element of "why do bad things happen to good people" happening, but what about the other people he sees riding the bus? what about the people who have always ridden the bus & have never had new cars or suburban houses--people like me? those people are affected by the financial crisis too, & they weren't the ones selling shady securities bundles or taking out lines of credit to afford their beanie baby habits. the whole thing ended with this "woe to the middle class" element that left a really bad taste in my mouth. am i really supposed to feel at all sorry for these people? because, i'm sorry, i don't. nor was i amused by their foibles & hijinks. gross gross gross.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    A decision is required of the patient reader quite early on in this tangled tale of common urban woe, debt and foreclosure.. The unreliable male narrator reveals himself to be, well, unreliable and quite easy to dislike. The reader must decide to associate with him anyways and laugh even while cringing in your chair. If that seems impossible you might just want to read this satirical farce as an indictment of our rotten societies rotten people. By the end, my resistance put aside , I almost foun A decision is required of the patient reader quite early on in this tangled tale of common urban woe, debt and foreclosure.. The unreliable male narrator reveals himself to be, well, unreliable and quite easy to dislike. The reader must decide to associate with him anyways and laugh even while cringing in your chair. If that seems impossible you might just want to read this satirical farce as an indictment of our rotten societies rotten people. By the end, my resistance put aside , I almost found a shred of empathy for the fumbling, insecure and shallow Matt as he struggles to come to grips with the collapse of his world.

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