Thursday, September 9, 2010

book review: The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel (P.S.)
The basics: The Financial Lives of Poets is the story of Matthew Prior, a newspaper reporter who quit his job to start a financial website written in poetry. Seriously. Not surprisingly, this venture has failed, and Matthew now finds his marriage less happy than it once was, his father (in the early stages of dementia) living with them, his sons wishing for electronics, their house on the verge of foreclosure, and himself increasingly desperate.

My thoughts: This novel took me on a roller coaster of a reading experience. I absolutely adored the first few chapters. I was reading it in public and could not stop myself from laughing out loud. The narrative began smart, funny and fresh, as when he describes the uniforms his sons wear to Catholic school:
I think these uniforms wouldn't be so bad if they didn't make the kids all look like bank tellers on casual Friday or the employees of a discount airline or--like me...
Throughout the book, the hilarious observations share space with thoughtful musings on life and love:
Our marriage was typical, I think; we deluded ourselves that it was made of rock-solid stuff, but there were trace elements of regret, seams of I-told-you-so, cracks of martyrdom.
The book began delightfully, but it soon descended into a satire so dark it was sometimes depressing. The push and pull between funny and dire fell out of balance for me at times, and I enjoyed the middle part of the book less than the rest. Even while I was not enjoying it completely, I still couldn't put it down, which is more a testament to Walter's writing than storytelling ability. I also laughed out loud more with this book than with any other in recent memory.When the story didn't move me, the writing still did. By the end, I was back on board with the story too. I may not have ended up loving it as much as I did in the early chapters, but I'm still glad I read it, and I think it's a solid, if not slightly unbalanced novel. It's certainly not for everyone, but I'm glad I read it, and I will look forward to more Jess Walter novels in the future.

The verdict: This book definitely isn't for everyone, but I recommend it to fans of smart, dark humor and those who don't mind a little raunch with their literary fiction.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 290 pages (plus some delightful bonus features in the paperback edition: a short story, an essay from the author on how the book came about--including a hilarious tale of an elderly woman who called him because she didn't understand The Zero and didn't know what to say at book club, and information on his previous novels)
Publication date: It's out in paperback now, in three lovely colors (pictured above)
Source: publisher, via TLC Book Tours
 As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. I read this book a few months ago, and thought it was a riot. I loved the dark humor and the plot was pretty exceptional too. It's a book that I haven't been able to forget, and I think Walter did an amazing job with it. Glad to hear you liked it too! Fantastic review!

  2. This kind of sounds like the experience I had reading Sam Savage's The Cry of the Sloth: those laugh-out-loud moments come at a price, but a price I was willing to pay.

  3. I'm glad you mostly liked it! I loved this book, but you're right that it was fairly depressing too.

  4. @Zibilee - I think it will stick with me for awhile too. I'm curious to know more about his other books too.

    @Buried in Print - I'm not familiar with The Cry of the Sloth, but I'll have to look for it.

    @Jenny - I'm definitely glad I read it, but I worry a book like this one may struggle to find the right audience.

  5. "those who don't mind a little raunch with their literary fiction" - now THAT'S an interesting way to put it! LOL

    This certainly sounds like a very unusual book. I'm glad that it picked up for you again toward the end and that you did end up enjoying it for the most part. Thanks for being on this tour!

  6. I think this one sounds like my kind of book!

  7. I will be reading and reviewing this in a few weeks. I attended an event last night at which the author read from the book and I was impressed by the writing and the smart humor. He did talk about how his books are labeled "comic" but some people see them as dark.

  8. I've had this one since it was in hardcover, but I've never gotten around to it. Even though it's dark, I still think I'll enjoy it. Thanks for the review!


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