Daily Archives: October 20, 2009

Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

financial lives of the poets 2My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The big questions I had when reading The Financial Lives of the Poets were  “What kind of book is this?” and the highly related “Did the author do that on purpose?


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?

Matthew Prior starts out the book in a 7/11 store, buying milk for his kids.  In come a couple of rambunctious young men, making a scene.  (Funny.  So this is a humorous book).  As these young men are playing out their stoned activities, Matt thinks back to his mom in her confused final days, worrying about 7/11, and whether the terrorists would be able to cause another day like it (hmm,so not just a fluffy stoned-adventure book).

And on it goes.  Matt is losing his house and his marriage, but this is presented in a funny way (dark humor?).  He lost all of their savings on a web site that mixed financial advice and poetry, with some help from his wife and her love for all thing that can be bought on E-Bay (It’s got to be satire).  Oh, the bits of poetry aren’t just at the beginnings of chapters, they are scattered throughout (is that a sign of a literary novel?)!

As I was bouncing from one of these thoughts to the next, I kept coming back to the question of whether the author was doing it on purpose– particularly once the book stopped being funny.  Did he mean to lead the reader on this sort of chase between real and exaggerated?

I decided yes, it was deliberate, and very well done.  None of us lives just one kind of a life, why should Matt occupy just one kind of a book?  It doesn’t need a label (other than fiction).  It is funny (for a while, at least), thought provoking (all the way through) and a reflection on life,  and on the choices we have and the choices we make.

I really enjoyed Matt as a character.  The choices he makes are not the same ones I would make in his position, but I found him sympathetic, but not pitiful; entertaining without being a clown.  I appreciated the zig-zag line the book walked between extremely realistic and over the top exaggeration, particularly when I realize other readers would count different elements in each category.

I’d suggest considering this book as a book club selection– as long as none of your members is desperate enough to follow Matt’s footsteps for a new career.

tlc-logoThank you to TLC book tours for allowing me to participate in this tour, and for providing me with a copy of this book to review. I wouldn’t have picked this book up on my own, I suspect, and now I’m keeping an eye out for Jess Walter’s other books.

If you are interested in other perspectives on The Financial Lives ofthe Poets, visit the other tour stops:


Posted by on October 20, 2009 in books, reviews, tour


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