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Cover for The Financial Lives of the Poets

The Financial Lives of the Poets

A Novel

Jess Walter


List Price: 16.99*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (11/16/2009)
Paperback (5/11/2016)
Paperback, Spanish (5/11/2011)


“Darkly funny, surprisingly tender . . . witheringly dead-on.” — Los Angeles Times

Named one of the year’s best novels by: Time • • Los Angeles Times • NPR/Fresh Air • New West • Kansas City Star • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A comic and heartfelt novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins and Cold Millions about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back.

What happens when small-time reporter Matthew Prior quits his job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse?

Before long, he wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. . . . Until, one night on a desperate two a.m. run to 7-Eleven, he falls in with some local stoners, and they end up hatching the biggest—and most misbegotten—plan yet.


Praise For The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel

“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.” — Washington Post

“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.” — Arizona Republic

“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

“The funniest way-we-live-now book of the year.” — Time magazine

“The novel has warmth, and its protagonist emerges as a bourgeois Everyman of the downturn.” — The New Yorker

“[Walter is a] deft humorist and catastrophist. . . . dangerously astute.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times

“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

“A real find….the ultimate something-for-everyone-don’t-skip-must-read.” — Sara Nelson, The Daily Beast

“[A] superb farce.” — Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

“Cynical yet warm, this novel about a financial reporter (with a failing website written entirely in blank verse) is a delight.” — Entertainment Weekly

“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

“Darkly funny, surprisingly tender . . . witheringly dead-on.” — Los Angeles Times

“A refreshing reminder that fiction remains a relevant, vital way to understand ourselves.” — The Oregonian (Portland)

“In this cautionary tale of fiscal follies and collapse Walter delivers a comic and gut-wrenching fable for these impecunious times.” — Kansas City Star

“A comic masterpiece… packed [with] life and wry truth.” — Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg News

“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)

“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

“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

“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 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

“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

Harper Perennial, 9780061916052, 320pp.

Publication Date: September 7, 2010

About the Author

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Conversation Starters from

Given their different ages and social worlds, what explains Matt Prior’s willingness to befriend Jamie and Skeet at the local 7-Eleven?


How does Lisa Prior’s past experience with financial insecurity impact her feelings about Matt as they weather their current money crisis?


What does Matt hope to achieve by seeking out Lisa’s current flirtation, Chuck Stehne, and to what extent does he succeed?


What does Matt’s vision for online investment poetry,, represent to him, and why does he connect its failure to his own personal shortcomings?


What does Matt’s decision to keep his nascent drug dealing a secret from Lisa reveal about the state of his marriage?


How would you characterize Matt’s feelings about his mostly senile father?


How does Matt relate his and Lisa’s obsession with their house to the wider cult of  home ownership during the housing bubble?


Why does Matt reveal the truth of his identity as a confidential informant to Bea?


To what extent do Dave’s and Monte’s reactions to Matt’s becoming a confidential informant for the police seem atypical of most druglords?


How did you interpret the final line of the novel: “And Lisa and me-we’re okay.”? To what extent do you read that line as ambiguous?