Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

20 Oct

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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4 responses to “Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

  1. Jenn

    October 20, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Definitely sounds interesting and different. Thanks for the review! 🙂

  2. trish

    October 20, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Fantastic review! I love just about everything you said, but I think this made me laugh out loud, “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.”

    Thanks for veering from your normal style of reviews, Laura! I think this review totally worked for this book. 🙂

  3. Lisa

    October 21, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as well. The title doesn’t really sell the book, although it is accurate, so I’m hoping that it can find life from bloggers talking about it.

    I loved the humor of the book despite the horrible scenario Matt found himself in. You just kept thinking “this cannot get any worse” and then it did. If it weren’t for the fact that you know there are people that this is happening to, you might think that the author has gone a bit over the top. The fact that it really could happen, made it that much more interesting for me.

  4. Carrie K.

    October 22, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Wonderful review! I enjoyed this very much, too – but have had trouble getting started on my review – probably because it’s so different than what I normally read.


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