The Financial Lives of the Poets – Jess Walter

Jess Walter’s novel The Financial Lives of the Poets is a refreshingly real and humourous look at the financial crisis and the trouble we thinking beings can get ourselves into.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic and heartfelt novel from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince and The Zero, about how we get to the edge of ruin—and how we begin to make our way back. Walter tells the story of Matt Prior, who’s losing his job, his wife, his house, and his mind—until, all of a sudden, he discovers a way that he might just possibly be able to save it all . . . and have a pretty damn great time doing it.

Book Review

The Financial Lives of the Poets has been described as ‘a superb farce’, ‘witheringly dead-on’ and ‘dangerously astute’, and although it is often risky to go into a book with such high expectations, this is one occasion when I found all that praise completely justified.

The story is both farcical and the most real thing I have read in a long time. The inner workings of our hapless protagonist and narrator, Matthew Prior’s mind take the reader on a roller coaster ride from darkness and depression through to moments of delicate poignancy reminiscent of the classics. Matthew prior is the ultimate battler, the ultimate under-dog in a fight between him and the world – or at least that’s how he sees himself. And don’t we all have days like this every now and then…

I have always enjoyed and identified with observational humour and satire, believing the ability to laugh at oneself is an in-built lifeboat in our psyche.

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In The Financial Lives of the Poets Jess Walter explores this human survival mechanism to great effect.

This novel is simply dripping with intelligent satire, with some of the protagonists mental rants providing delicious laugh-out-loud moments.

Now, as I take the elevator up to the fifth floor and that Gitmo of offices, Human Resources, I pray to God or the Pope, or whichever saint is in charge of humiliation avoidance that the elevator doors will NOT open to the third floor, that old cauldron of a newsroom, but of course the Pope — knowing that I haven’t taken the required classes yet — causes the doors to open exactly on the third floor. And, not satisfied with this, the Pope causes to step on my elevator the  last person on earth I would want to see, the Idi Amin of journalism, the Pol Pot of my newspaper, he whose name cannot be typed without befouling a keyboard, the very editor who accepted my resignation two years ago and then took me back, only to force me out four months later, the evil M–.

But this novel is not a continual comedy routine either. Walter’s superior skill as an author is on display as he balances our protagonists drug-addled mid-life crisis with his undying care and tenderness for his father suffering dementia. This novel rockets along with sharp and snappy dialogue, but it is the poignancy of Prior’s conversations with his senile father that really drew out the moral of the story for me — we humans often invest our time, energies and our sense of self-worth in the attainment of possessions we can ultimately live with out, and paradoxically we usually do this at the expense of the things we truly cannot live without.

This novel has something in it for everyone – male, female, young and old – and yes, there are smatterings of appropriately themed poetry as the title would suggest. There is a lesson in there for us all – whether it’s remembering the ability to laugh at oneself or even just to think twice before refinancing your house!

If you are looking for something refreshing real, easy to read and ultimately uplifting, get yourself a copy of The Financial Lives of the Poets.

BOOK RATING: The Writing 4.5 / 5 ; The Story 4.5 / 5

BOOK DETAILS: The Financial Lives of the Poets (The Book Depository), The Financial Lives of the Poets (Amazon); The Financial Lives of the Poets (Audible)

Genre: Humour, Drama, Literature

Author Information: Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe among many others.

Other Titles by this Author: The Zero (2006), Citizen Vince (2005), Land of the Blind (2003), Over Tumbled Graves (2001), Ruby Ridge (2002)
Other Resources

A big thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of The Financial Lives of the Poets for review and the opportunity to be part of this blog tour.

My receiving this book free of charge for the purpose of review and participation in this TLC Blog Tour did not in anyway influence my expression of my honest thoughts and feelings about this book.

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