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.
©2009 Jess Walter; (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers
I rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.
The more I read and follow other people's reviews, the more I realize a funny thing; people can have almost exactly the same taste in books you do, but have a completely difference response to them. That's what makes life interesting - in fact, that's what makes reading reviews interesting.
Several people I follow have read and reviewed this book now, and they have commented on how funny it was. There absolutely was a lot of humor in the book, and it did make me chuckle on a regular basis; but to me, this book was a really depressing story with funny parts - not a funny story with depressing parts. That ends up being a significant difference.
Jess Walter is an extremely talented writer, and also did a fantastic job on his own narration. This fact however only exacerbated for me how incredibly effective he was in making me deeply depressed.
As the book summary explains, the main character in this novel has lost his job, is in the process of loosing his wife and his house, and is trying to reverse everything that is going so wrong in his life. Most of the characters he meets along the way are also deeply unhappy, and because the writing is so effective, and the general situation he's in (laid off, under water on his mortgage, strains on the marriage) is so familiar in the real world right now, it was a really bleak picture.
The final third of the book gets more and more depressing, until the author abandons his attempt at levity, and just hunkers down to bring us to a sober conclusion. The storytelling was so good during this third that I kept feeling like more heavy bricks were being placed on my shoulders, to the point where I was dying to get to the end because I couldn't take much more.
I would have loved to read the book that some of the other reviewers did; the book that was just funny. That being said, it's very possible that YOU will read the book they read - so take this review with a grain of salt. That's the beauty of all these reviews; seeing how we all experience each story differently.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I started The Financial Lives of the Poets because I loved Jess Walter's latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, so much. Matt Prior is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, which through his own choices, rapidly escalates to a mid-life catastrophe. He quits his job as a newspaper financial reporter to create poetfolio, a web site that combines investment advice and poetry. That goes over as well as a realistic person might predict, but it's also just the tip of the iceberg. Matt's wife is having a text/Facebook/in person affair with a guy from Lumberland after she has filled their garage with crap from eBay and failed to resell it, and his senile father has to move in after losing everything to a stripper. Matt is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and foreclosure, when he meets Skeet and Jamie one night at the local 7-11. They introduce him to designer marijuana, and Matt gets the brilliant idea to cash in his miniscule 401(k) and use the proceeds to buy and sell marijuana. This is how he will dig himself out of his financial chasm, but this plan also goes as well as a rational person might predict.
Matt is an interesting protagonist, very well-written by Walter. One of the most interesting things about him is that he seems to be quite aware of the financial, emotional, and bureaucratic messes that he (and our society) have made, yet he goes on making increasingly desperate decisions. Walter doesn't write Matt as hapless, so we cheer for his indomitability while shaking our heads at his incompetence. Ordinarily a character like this might irritate me, but Jess Walter's amazing writing made this a pleasure to read. Matt does learn a lesson that we should all take notice of: "The edge is so close to where we live."
I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?
This book is fun and funny. And underneath the humor is a story of one family's struggle to hold on. Dad feels like it's on him to make sure his family can stay in their home and continue to live the good old American Dream. During a trip to the store for "milk" Dad meets new "friends" and all unfolds from there. This book is cute and hip and engaging and a bit sad and dear. I loved it!!!!!
Plug it in and you're off at about 100 mph, caught up in a blast of creative energy--and laughter. A few minutes in, the protagonist (Matt) makes an hilarious attempt to convince his mother that the debris ball of pot, lint, and a few pennies, that she just pulled out of a pair of his jeans, is not his; another 5 minutes, he catches a glimpse of a soccer-mom's thong and he's off on a childhood memory about having to fold the clothes each week--including his mother's huge, full-coverage panties. And so it went...Financial Lives of the Poets is almost like listening to a good comedian doing very smart stand-up (just remember: most comedians draw on personal tragedy for inspiration).
Walter has a contemporary and offbeat style, as well as keen journalistic senses and originality; he is easily a major literary voice of the post-boom era (at least in my mind). With Financial Lives he manages to explain this "McMansion" culture with insight, cynical humor, and heart, orchestrating just enough of an emotional balance to keep you from being distracted by your own laughter. I saw mention of a comparison to Bazell's Beat the Reaper; very much the same energy and rapid-fire wit, but less caustic and more relevant and realistic (and Walter is the better writer). The *star* rating might be proportionate to age, or coolness...(which should make me want to give this 5 stars), it's a matter of relevancy. Very fun, well written, and an above average performance by Walter himself. Recommend.
pleasant bald person
It definitely fits into what you might call the "middle-aged suburban comic nightmare" genre of fiction on the lines of Franzen's "The Corrections," Chabon's "Wonder Boys" or Clarke's "An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England." What makes this stand out in the field is that the story is small and controlled (none of the sprawl that often makes books like these wander too far), and absolutely every element pays off in larger meaning. (The fact that the first chapter takes place at a 7-11 becomes a parodic model for references to 9/11 later, and it works smartly.) In short, there is warm intelligence and compassion for ever character on every page, while at the same time Walter creates a tremendously important document about the human costs of the 2008 recession, and of the modern world in general. Just amazing, and well worth the visit. He had me at chapter one.
He has the delivery EXACTLY, as you might expect, so that even parenthetical comments sound perfectly parenthetical and don't stop the forward flow of a sentence. Best of all, and most important, is that he delivers all the jokes perfectly: not only in their timing, but in the voice of the appropriate characters. He's got a good ear for humanity, and it shows in his telling.
Avid listener of fiction of all kinds. On constant search for perfect commuting / running audiobook list.
No. Because I don't listen to any book twice. But if I had to...it wouldn't be sheer torture. I'd survive. The other person would survive (I can only expect listening to it again because I am locked in a room or car with someone and they want to listen to it). Both these survivable points means that it's actually a pretty good book.
Oh that book, what is it called...Beat the Reaper. That's it. Reason is they are both light and fun and yet dark and serious. But The Financial Lives of the Poets wins because he does what I see so rarely: he treats "bad" people as just everyday people with crap lives or crap choices. They're human, not caricatures.
Dave crying. Hands down. Oh..but also Jamie's comment of "outgrowing your life". Nicely done.
Nope. It's a good name.
Enjoy. I did. It's laugh out loud funny on occasion. I may have looked stupid in my car: but I don't care.
The funniest and most sharply written book I've "read" in a while. Very enjoyable and enlightening, even.
This book kept me up till 4am. I found the first person narrative honest and authentic. Matt Prior is a sympathetic main character struggling to make sense of the financial crash of 09 and his failing marriage. Very engaging, topical and funny in many places. Loved it.
Former English and drama major, bookaholic.
I have never read anything by Jess Walters and so was truly taken by surprise by the sheer intelligence of this guy! The metaphors, the rich, snappy banter of his writing is a treat after some of the bad sitcom-like books I sometimes download by mistake. The story is straightforward and also very touching amid all of this verbal acrobatics. Loved it.
This is a really funny, enjoyable journey. Walter's writing and reading is excellent. Occasionally a little slow, but overall a very compact, tight story. Highly recommended.
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