The Financial Lives of the Poets
Author: Jess Walter
Release Date: 2009
This was the first book I’ve read by Jess Walter, an author that was recommended to me by Nick Hornby in his collection of essays for the Guardian. Walter’s writing didn’t remind me as much of Hornby as it did Richard Russo. The style was definitely what I would call comedy or farce, but Walter does an excellent job of still making the reader invested in the relationships at the center of the book and having actual stakes for the protagonist. Although now that I’ve finished the book, I’m still not sure why it’s called “The Financial Lives of the Poets;” the second “the” seems pretty unnecessary in that instance.
The plot of this novel, without giving too much away, is that a former journalist is currently unemployed, facing financial ruin after quitting his job to create a financial/poetry website that was not the success he thought it would be. In addition to dealing with the lack of money, the main character’s dad is living with the family while dealing with dementia, and his wife has been acting suspicious on her social media accounts and cell phone. A chance meeting with some local marijuana dealers ends up leading the protagonist down some very interesting outcomes.
Generally, when a character makes the kind of decisions that Matt Prior (the main character) does in this book I’d lose all sympathy for him. However, Walter does such a great job of keeping the book really funny while also making most of the crazy decisions hold up to some weird logic that’s consistent with the main character that I didn’t have that problem with this book. The scenes involving Matt confronting a possible adultery suspect, giving parenting advice to his kids and dealing with his dad’s memory problems all felt completely real. I’m anxious to try more books by this author in future.