Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
291 pages
Published September 2009 by Harper Collins
Acquired from: the publisher

Matt Prior is a man on the edge of losing everything. After a long career as the financial reporter for a local newspaper, Matt gave it all up a couple of years ago to chase a dream. He started his own online site titled poetfolio.com, a site dedicated to giving financial news and advice in poetic form. Predictably, it was a failure. As was his wife, Lisa's, attempt to cash in on the collectible market by buying on ebay and reselling. The result was a garage full of stuff that Lisa couldn't move. After the collapse of the website, Matt headed back to the newspaper, just as the paper started cutting jobs and within four months, Matt found himself out of a job. Now the family is living on Lisa's part-time job. Sound bad? It gets worse. The Priors have also gotten themselves into a house they can no longer afford and trying to keep themselves in it has only made things worse. Now Matt has six days to come up with $31,000 or they will lose the house. A fact he hasn't mentioned to Lisa. His pension is almost nothing and the stocks he so confidently bought a few years back have tanked. Bad enough for you yet? What...there's more. Matt's dad, who is having financial problems of his own and is slipping into dementia, is living with them. Matt and Lisa have elected to put their boys into Catholic school because the local public school is so dangerous but making the tuition has also become problematic. To top it all off, Lisa seems to have slipping into an affair with a former beau.

Sound like something that could be made humorous? I wouldn't have thought so either. But Walter manages to find the humor. He has thrown in almost every problem a family could have and is more than up front about the realities of these problems. It's something of a "if you don't laugh, you'll never stop crying" mentality.

As the book opens, Matt is at a 7/11 buying milk that he needs to have for his sons first thing in the morning. And that's when he meets Jamie and Skeet, two guys he would probably not even exchange pleasantries with. Yet, somehow, he ends up hanging out with these guys for the rest of the evening, picking up a new nickname and the germ of an idea for how he might be able to dig himself out of his financial mess. And that's how Matt finds himself exploring the idea of becoming a drug dealer and gets involved with a some very interesting characters.

The book I read was not the book I was expecting when I opened the cover. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. I imagined that the book might be depressing, perhaps a bit dry, what with finances involved in the title. And there are some very depressing aspects to the book. Walter pulls no punches when he goes after the home mortgage crisis, the newspaper crisis, and business practices in general. But dry this book is not.

Even though Walter may have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this book in terms of problems the Priors are facing, it never seems unbelievable. And all of that makes the idea that someone could turn to dealing drugs to be entirely realistic. But Walter keeps it from gettting too heavy, constantly throwing in characters and situations that made me giggle as I read the book. Although the idea of Matt's dad dealing with dementia is not funny, the list of the six things that he misses is funny. Following Matt through the week depicted in this book was a real page turner for me.

For those going through similar circumstances, this book may strike too close to home. I, as I said, found the book humorous, but it's not necessarily a humor that everyone will get. Every chapter starts with a bit of free form poetry (in fact, there are even some very short chapters that a nothing but poetry) and I will admit that I sometimes skimmed over these just to get to the forward motion of the story. Overall, this is definitely a book I will pass along to friends and family. Thanks to Trish, from Hey Lady, What Ya Reading and TLC Book Tours for including me in this blog tour!


  1. Hmmm, it certainly sounds different than anything I've read lately!

  2. Sounds interesting but I think I would have been so depressed at their train wreck of a life. I like the idea of poetry in the mix. Was this fiction? I assume so but it does sound like a situation lots of people have found themselves in lately (not necessarily the dealing part)

  3. The title doesn't catch me but the cover sort of does. I don't know why but it comes off as sort of funny to me. I know, a guy falling to his death is not funny but it looks comical to me!

  4. I'm always up for humor, especially with all the crap going on around me. I'll have to look into this one! Great review!

  5. Your review is fantastic, but I'm not sure the book is for me. I don't get free form poetry at all and I think that humor would get old after a while.

  6. Great review! This books sounds rather interesting and truth be told had I seen this at a bookshop I might have picked it up because of the book cover, but I would have put it down because of the title. Thanks for the post - now I'll keep an eye out for it. Cheers!

  7. Ahh, as I was reading the first paragraph and the list of what goes wrong, I kept thinking, "Please tell me this is funny."

    Glad to hear it is.

  8. This sounds like something I would like. Great review!