Friday, July 26, 2013

Financial Lives of the Poets

Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Browse book here at the publisher's site.

Matt Prior was a journalist, but left the field to start a website combining financial advice and poetry.  Yeah, that went over about as well as it sounds like it would.  So, he managed to get his job back at the newspaper, only to be culled from the herd in a series of layoffs at the paper.  Now, he's living in a home he can't sell, or pay for, for that matter. He's got a wife he's pretty sure is all prepared to stray from her marriage vows with her high school sweetheart and two sons in a private school he can no longer afford. Sadly, the alternative is the local public school, which he and his wife are not prepared to subject their little boys.

Matt hasn't been sleeping. His father is living on his living room couch, where he is slowly succumbing to dementia. His lucid moments, to Matt's despair, are becoming fewer and farther between.  He's caring for his dad, letting down his sons, losing his wife and their house.  He spends his days on hold with financial institutions where he plots ways to stay afloat. He looks for jobs that just aren't there, he's hanging on by a thread.  Then, late one night he goes to a Seven -Eleven store to buy milk for the boys' breakfast.  He pulls up and sees the usual collection of late night munchie craving stoner boys.  Then they ask him if he wants to buy some pot and Matt steps through the rabbit hole.

His life from this point, remains the same on the one hand. He's still not sleeping, his home and financial situations are not improving and he's still struggling to find a way to keep the inevitable from happening. On the other hand, those sleepless nights are filled with trips to see his new friends and smoking buddies and his attempt to start an upscale marijuana business.  His first time smoking as an adult brings back the memories of his own stoner youth moments.  He figures that if he feels that way, there are probably plenty of people like him that may have nostalgic feelings for those days, and now the have the cash flow to indulge themselves.  Although he's still got plenty to lose, he sees most of it slipping through his hands and he takes the leap in a sleep-deprived effort to save himself and the life he once had and desperately wants back.

This darkly comic book probably hits a little too close to home for some of its readers. In fact, if you look at the Amazon and goodreads and Barnes and Noble reviews for the books, while overwhelmingly positive, are interspersed with readers who just couldn't bear the subject matter.  The demise of family, the fall of one man's little piece of civilization is sad subject matter.  Matt's a lost boy and he's grasping at straws, legitimate and illegal alike in an effort to hold on to what matters to him, and all the while his father, his wife, his marriage, his home, his job prospects are all just slipping through his fingers. 

Jess Walter has created an interesting and believable cast of characters. The actions and reactions of these flawed and complicated people are easy enough to relate to.  You don't have to suspend reality much to see how all of this could absolutely go down in the middle of your life.  Sure, we can all shake our heads and "know" we wouldn't make those same mistakes but, I bet you all know at least one someone who did make them.  Maybe not all of them, but some combination with varying happy/sad/comical/depressing results.  I think Walter really grabs the reader and forces him/her to step over the line with Matt, and whether they do it eagerly or with much trepidation, they are in for a very interesting trip.


Judy Krueger said...

I never got around to reading this when it was first out. Intriguing title. You make it sound good. I was disappointed in Beautiful Ruins because his writing let me down somehow. Have you read that one?

JoanneMarie Faust said...

I read Beautiful Ruins earlier this year and I liked it enough. I wasn't crazy about all of the characters, even the ones I was supposed to be rooting for, but I did like it. Financial Lives of the Poets is a very black comedy. I can totally see how some people would find it too bleak to read. Too many real people are living in Matt Prior's shoes. I really did enjoy this book.