The Financial Lives of the Poets
By Jess Walter
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061916045, 304pp.)
Publication Date: October 2009
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Meet Matt Prior. He's about to lose his job, his wife, his house, maybe his mind. Unless . . .
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.
Jess Walter is the author of The Zero (a finalist for the National Book Award), Citizen Vince (a winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel), Land of the Blind , Ruby Ridge, and Over Tumbled Graves (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year). He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his family.
Many of the picks from Fresh Air's book critic look back at tough times from earlier eras, or lives upended by disaster. The best books of the year include a work of nonfiction that reveals the hidden fantasy land of a founder of American industry, and a novel that doesn't apologize for the bad behavior of its characters. Plus, a bonus mystery pick. More at NPR.org
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Matt Prior is the protagonist of The Financial Lives of the Poets and a complete figment of Walter's imagination. Walter has taken pains to ensure Matt Prior's life is as shitty as a well-educated white American male's can be.
- Given their different ages and social worlds, what explains Matt Prior's willingness to befriend Jamie and Skeet at the local 7-Eleven?
“Would be so sad if it weren’t so funny, and so funny if it weren’t so sad. . . . Compassionate, witty and drawn from today’s heartless world, it’s a terrific book.”
“The funniest way-we-live-now book of the year.”
“A deliciously antic tale of an American dream gone very sour...part noir gumshoe, part average Joe, [Matt Prior] is a sharp, wide-eyed, soulful observer, with a keen eye for the layers of bureaucracy and doublespeak.”
“Jess Walter is a brilliant writer, one of the freshest new voices in American literature.”
-Dallas Morning News
“America’s first Great Recession novel.”
“A comic masterpiece… packed [with] life and wry truth.”
-Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg News
“[Walter is a] deft humorist and catastrophist. . . . dangerously astute.”
-Janet Maslin, New York Times
“A real find….the ultimate something-for-everyone-don’t-skip-must-read.”
-Sara Nelson, The Daily Beast
“A refreshing reminder that fiction remains a relevant, vital way to understand ourselves.”
-The Oregonian (Portland)
“Confirms Jess Walter as a writer of the first rank.…his eye keen for the true values of the human heart. This is a hopped-up, raucous stunner of a novel with a hero who’s funny enough to make you weep for what we’ve lost.”
-Whitney Terrell, author of The King of Kings County and The Huntsman
“Jess Walter’s smart and big-hearted take on our bleak national moment is a welcome relief. The Financial Lives of the Poets is a rollicking fiction and an affecting family portrait, as well as a mordantly funny cautionary tale.”
-Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and Venus Drive
“Walter is one of my favorite young American writers. . . . [Financial Lives] made me laugh more than any other book published this year.”
-Nick Hornby, Parade
“Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic, graceful parable of marriage and money troubles in which a well-meaning family man makes decisions that are seriously stupid—and entertaining and American.”
-Sarah Vowell, author of Assassination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates
“When it comes to explaining to me my own too often baffling nation, there’s no one writing today whom I trust as completely as Jess Walter. His intelligence and sympathy and great wit inform every page—indeed every sentence—of his terrific new novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets. ”
-Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic and Empire Falls
“One of the best American writers working today.…It’s a testament to this author’s genius that I could not stop laughing even as he drives home some necessary truths. Walter has written a profound, and profoundly funny, book; this may well be the classic novel of our post-boom era.”
-Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
“Matt Prior . . . is an Everyman for our parlous times.”
“National Book Award-finalist Walter does for the nation’s bleak financial landscape what he did for 9-11 in The Zero: whip-smart satire with heart.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[A] superb farce.”
-Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“The novel has warmth, and its protagonist emerges as a bourgeois Everyman of the downturn.”
-The New Yorker
“An extremely funny novel…a very smart meditation on what’s gone wrong with both the US economy and those of us who are expected to keep it running…cleverly designed and immensely entertaining.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“Cynical yet warm, this novel about a financial reporter (with a failing website written entirely in blank verse) is a delight.”
-The Must List, Entertainment Weekly
“Darkly funny, surprisingly tender . . . witheringly dead-on.”
-Los Angeles Times
“In this cautionary tale of fiscal follies and collapse Walter delivers a comic and gut-wrenching fable for these impecunious times.”
-Kansas City Star
“Hilarious and timely…Walter grounds the story with moments of genuine feeling…bitter, funny and accurate…Jess Walter’s buoyant voice is a fresh pleasure.”
“Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets is gasp out loud funny. It’s also sufficiently true to life that you’re grateful it’s not your life. Middle-class mayhem is just the best, at least in Walter’s hands.”
-New York Daily News