Book Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

financialTitle: The Financial Lives of Poets
Author: Jess Walter
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Harper
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: TLC Book Tours
First line(s): – Here they are again – the bent boys, baked
and buzzed boys, wasted, red-eyed, dry-mouth
high boys, coursing narrow bright aisles
hunting food as high as they are, twitchy
hands wadding bills they spill
on the counter, so pleased and so
proud, as if they’re the very
inventors of stoned –

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter is a difficult book to classify. Yes, it’s contemporary fiction. It is also full of poetry. It’s hilarious, but cynical, and deals with heavy issues like infidelity, financial upheaval, and drugs. Did I mention it was funny?

Matt Prior is losing – or has already lost – everything. His internet site,, which was dedicated to giving stock tips in poetry form, has folded. He returned to the newspaper he had written for previously, only to be laid off shortly after. His home is mortgaged to the hilt, and unless he can come up with a $30,000 balloon payment in the next week or so, it will go into foreclosure. His wife is having an online affair with her former boyfriend. Basically, everything is heading down the toilet.

While out buying milk at the 7/11, Matt runs into some young people who invite him to a party, a party at which he smokes pot for the first time since college. It’s pretty good weed, and suddenly Matt sees all of his upper middle-class friends as potential customers. Could this be the way out of his financial crisis? The way to win back the respect of his wife?

Matt’s story is one of one thing going wrong after another. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do. And along the way, we learn the history of his relationships with his wife and sons, his employment history, and his relationship with his dad, who lives with the Priors and is suffering from dementia.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is definitely a case of “don’t judge the book by the cover” – or the title, for that matter. It is a uniquely written work of literary fiction, one that is written in a style that is undefinable. Mixing humor and poetry with observations of modern life, Walter has crafted a story that kept me turning the pages. There were many passages that made me laugh out loud, and not a few that had me in tears. This is a story that will definitely resonate with readers in today’s economy – the idea that the American dream sometimes turns into a nightmare is becoming all too common.

“It looks like Jenga,” says Franklin.

And this causes me to start crying again. It was Franklin’s favorite game a couple of years ago, Jenga. We played every night before I tucked him into his little bed, his feet curled up beneath him. I stare at the beams in my front yard, stacked crosswise, and it comes to me that life is a version of that children’s game: pull one from the bottom and stack it on top and try to keep the whole thing from falling. Slide a board out, stack it on top, the structure growing taller as the weight shifts upward, until the base begins to look like lattice, and pretty soon you realize you’re holding your breath, that there are no more safe moves, but still you must try, always try, because that’s the game … so you look for a board to slide, gently … slide … gently … even though you can never win, and it’s always the same … breathless and tentative … the world teetering above your head.

(The above passage is from an uncorrected proof, and may be different in the final published copy.)

Other reviews:

Lit and Life
Take Me Away
Book Journey
Jo-Jo Loves to Read
Starting Fresh
I’m Booking It
Beth’s Book Review Blog


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11 Responses to Book Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

  1. Kathy says:

    The title is certainly misleading! The book does sound like something I would enjoy.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Wondrous Words Wednesday =-.

  2. Sheila DeChantal
    Twitter: bookjourney

    I agree the cover is poorly done but the book is worth the read! 🙂
    .-= Sheila DeChantal´s last blog ..Author Chat with Erika Robuck, author of Receive Me Falling =-.

  3. trish says:

    That’s a great passage you quoted!

    EVERYONE has said the book’s funny, and I can’t wait to read it! I hope I think it’s funny as well. 🙂

    Thanks for being on this tour, Carrie!
    .-= trish´s last blog ..Horrible Dare Accepted and Declared Completed =-.

  4. Kristen
    Twitter: booknaround

    I am looking forward to reading this one too. Great review.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Review: The Brandons by Angela Thirkell =-.

  5. Pingback: Mommy Brain » Quick update - and some links

  6. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna

    I can’t wait to read this one, I have it to review. Thanks for this review!
    .-= S. Krishna´s last blog ..Bed of Roses – Nora Roberts =-.