Monday, November 1, 2010

The Financial Lives of The Poets is emotional, poignant

The Financial Lives of The Poets by Jess Walter
Published by Harper Perennial
Paperback $14.99

I have to admit, a novel titled The Financial Lives of The Poets is not something I would normally rush to read. Why would I care about finance and poets? But since people I respect raved about this book, I gave it a try.

I'm so glad I did! Jess Walter has written a dazzling story of a young suburban family in the throws of the national economic crisis that threatens not only their financial stability but their very existence as a family unit.

Matt left his job as a business writer at a newspaper to follow his dream- a website devoted to financial news, with advice columns written in poetry. Even in the best of times, this sounds like a risky venture. Matt and his wife Lisa take another mortgage on their house to invest in the company, and then the housing market crashes.

Matt goes back to his job at the newspaper, only to be laid off when newspapers begin to lose advertisers and readers. Lisa works at a boring job she hates for little money and expresses her dissatisfaction by buying collectibles that she hopes to resell on Ebay. Now their garage is filled with boxes of junk she is unable to unload.

Their house will soon be in foreclosure, and their children will be forced to leave their lovely Catholic school and go to the dangerous neighborhood public school. Matt's father, who suffers from dementia, has moved in with them after he met a stripper who stole all of his money, and Lisa is contemplating an affair with her old boyfriend. What's a man to do?

After Matt meets up with some young potheads at the 7-11 one night, he becomes enmeshed in their lives. He hangs out with them hoping to forget his troubles. Eventually, as sometimes happens when under the influence of pot, a plan is created that Matt hopes will solve his money problems.

The author writes well for his characters. The disintegrating marriage of Matt and Lisa is sad to watch.
"We're in a perpetual stalemate here; lost. I can see how we got here- after each bad decision, after each failure we quietly logged our blame, our petty resentments; we constructed a case against each other that we never prosecuted. As long as both cases remained unstated, the charges sealed, we had a tacit peace; you don't mention this and I won't mention that, this and that growing and changing and becoming everything, until the only connection between us was this bridge of quiet guilt and recrimination."
While Lisa and Matt fall apart, Matt's relationship with his dad is so touching. Anyone who has someone in their own family with dementia will relate to Matt and his dad, the loving patience Matt shows his father, the loss of a once-proud man's self-reliance.

Fans of Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You should run to get this book. As a woman, I find this glimpse into the male psyche fascinating.  (The cover is even reminiscent of TV's Mad Men opening credits with the falling man.) Matt's poetry is cleverly sprinkled throughout the book, adding an extra dimension for the reader. Walter's look at the economic crisis through the prism of this one family is an emotional, poignant ride.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Erica at Harper Perennial for providing a copy of this book for review


  1. You had me at Jonathan Tropper! I love his writing and have heard good things about this one. I find a look into the male psyche fascinating, too, and this sounds like a different, offbeat read!

  2. I have a husband and two college age sons so understanding the male psyche is a hobby of mine. ;)

  3. I agree - this author reminds me of Jonathan Tropper. I loved Financial Lives of Poets (my review will be posted shortly) - I actually went to see the author and Sam Lipsyte at the Center for Fiction where they spoke about the comic novel - it was quite good. That is the first time I have been to an event there but they have a good program for the next few months.

    Thanks for your review!

  4. I'm interested in going to the Center for Fiction- you've convinced me!

  5. This has been on my TBR for a while. I am a longtime Tropper fan, so you've convinced me.

  6. I just found a copy of Tropper's THE BOOK OF JOE at the Ronald McDonald House book sale. I can't wait to read it.