Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter

Book Description

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.

In my opinion:

This book started off slowly for me. The crazy scenario at that beginning, where the main character goes out to buy milk and ends up getting high, had me scratching my head, wondering WTF? Then it seems this poor guy, Matt, was just repeatedly whining about his bad circumstances and not really doing anything about it, except getting high.

During my non-reading moments, I kept thinking about the book and I finally figured it out. This schmuck of a former financial writer is just like everyone else out there that has been hit by hard times. When this happens to you, you do tend to go over and over things in your head, wondering where it went wrong. I gave the book some slack after this realization.

For Matt Prior the beginning of his undoing was his poetfolio.com idea, a website offering financial advice, stock quotes, etc, with a literary twist. Matt's a bit of a dreamer, thinking he's somehow better than his co-workers at the newspaper, He finally decides to take his great ideas and go it on his own, with his website, only to back out at the last minute and go crawling back to his old job. Then cut-backs hit and they hit him hard. Not to mention, his wife has become fond of online social networks, reconnecting with an old boyfriend.

None of this is unusual in today's iffy financial climate, or the online social climate, for that matter. The differences here are the wild ideas that Matt comes up with to try and fix everything (hence the reason I called him a schmuck earlier). There are probably not a lot of people out there that think turning to drug dealing as a viable or successful method of financial recovery.

As I progressed through the story, I felt the character becoming more believable. He suffers a bit of a meltdown, as anyone would, with all of the pressures involved. There are some weird, funny poems placed in various spots in the book also, that almost give credence to Matt's website idea. Almost. More often than not, they just allow for some comic relief in a tough tale.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, once my left-brain and right-brain were able to reconcile how this man got into his messes in the first place. Jess Walter does a great job with the story and I would recommend The Financial Lives of Poets wholeheartedly!

Author Bio:
Jess Walter is the author of five novels, including The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, and Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. He has been a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Prize in both fiction and nonfiction. His books have been New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR best books of the year and have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Spokane, Washington.

For more information on Jess Walter, check out his website: JessWalter.com/


StephanieD said...

Do you think that this book is too close to what's happening to many people currently or this the exact right time to have published this book?

Jackie said...

Good question! It touches on what alot of people are going thru while adding that fictitious, silly aspect of the story. It is not so much a commentary on the current situation as a wild version of one man's solution to his own problems. It doesn't make light of people's experiences so the timing is acceptable, I think.

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