The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter

Title: The Financial Lives of the Poets
Author: Jess Walter
Pages: 290
Originally Published: 2009
Format I Read: Paperback
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: [rating:4]

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I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

Welcome to today’s stop on Jess Walter’s TLC Book Tour for The Financial Lives of the Poets. Who can resist a title like that? I couldn’t, and I’m exceptionally glad that this book has such a catchy title. But the title is only the beginning.

Matthew Prior’s life is close to a record low. He quit his solid business-reporting newspaper job to start his own website that reported financial news in verse: poetfolio.com. When poetfolio.com flopped, he hurred back to his old job, just in time to be laid off. His house is days away from foreclosure. His wife is Facebooking with an old boyfriend. He’s cashed out everything, and has $9,000 left to his name. Now he’s struggling to save everything.

Jess Walter is an exceptional writer. And he manages to convey the concepts in this book through both prose and poetry. The poetical touches in the book were sometimes annoying (does anyone else have to force themselves to get through poems and songs in the midst of a book?) but usually insightful. This brief reference, I found inspiring:

We park behind a red Camaro (so much depends on a red Camaro) and I follow Dave and Jamie between piles of leaves up the sidewalk to a simple two-story with a pitched dormer, a hot tub on the side of the house and an old RV with an electrical cord leading to the back door. (159)

There also moments of truth:

My father did pass on plenty of wisdom, of course, a lot of it incidental, like other men from his generation, hints and clues glimpsed through his unfailing work ethic and his refusal to ever complain about anything. No matter what happened, the man soldiered on – got up every day and put on that tie and went to a job he knew was beneath his abilities – and anyone who thinks there’s anything more profoundly inspiring than that is fooling himself. (211)

And there were interesting perspectives:

So I make one phone call, and just like that, we’re eating pizza at 6:30. What is this world? You tap seven abstract figures onto a piece of plastic thin as a billfold, hold that plastic device to your head, use your lungs and vocal cords to indicate more abstractions, and in thirty minutes, a guy pulls up in a 2,000-pound maching made on an island on the other side of the world, fueled by viscous liquid made from the rotting corpses of dead organisms pulled from the desert on yet another side of the world and you give this man a few sheets of green paper representing the abstract wealth of your home nation, and he gives you a perfectly reasonable facsimile of one of the staples of the diet of a people from yet another faraway nation. (234-35).

If you can’t tell from the above quotes, my goodness, the writing! It’s beautiful. It soars. And in a book about hardship, that’s something. There were a few mild irritations – some of the poetry. And the male angst. Oh, the male angst. The references to September 11th as 7/11. (It makes sense in context but was rather annoying.) And the plot seemed to skip and spurt here and there. But overall, this is a great book. The characters are real. The situations are oh so real. And it works on the plot level, as well as a this-is-what-is-happening-to-people-all-across-the-nation-right-now level too. It’s funny and heartbreaking. And it definitely sneaked up on me. I didn’t expect to love it.

I think I’ll read it again in a few years, when the financial crises is a fading memory. To remember. But you, you should read it now.

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter [rating:4]

Check out Jess Walter‘s homepage, as well as the rest of the stops on the TLC Book Tour for The Financial Lives of the Poets.

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