Steve's Reviews > The Financial Lives of the Poets

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
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Sep 15, 11


Richard Russo, one of my favorite writers, was asked a while back to name some recent books he’d enjoyed. He rattled off a few titles then ended his list with “anything by Jess Walter.” I can see why. Walter is funny, writes as though it’s an easy thing to do, reveals what we recognize as true human nature, and creates characters who aren’t perfect, but you find yourself pulling for anyway. In other words, he’s a lot like Russo. This particular one may not reach the same heights as Citizen Vince (the best of the four Walter books I’ve now read), but it’s still entertaining.

On the face of it, the plot might seem silly. Matt Prior quit his job with the newspaper to launch a website devoted to financial news and commentary presented entirely in blank verse. In the meantime, his beautiful but perhaps less than faithful wife developed an eBay addiction. Their financial situation was understandably dire. The story begins at a 7-Eleven where Matt falls in with a pack of dope-smoking slackers. His schemes for getting back on track seem to have been influenced by the new, pharmacologically advanced pot that he sampled. Trouble ensues, along with a dark and sarcastic form of hilarity.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is well worth the small investment in time. And there’s plenty of great dialog to make it livelier still. My only criticism is that it seemed almost too easy. When a track star runs the mile, we’d be disappointed if he’s not breathing hard, even if he finishes below 4 minutes. Walter said in an interview at the end of the book that it took him a very short while (not more than a few months) to put this one together. Be that as it may, I contend that the hastily constructed ramblings by a talented guy like Walter are far better than the ponderous works by the multitudes of lesser lights.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan I think your reading rate these days is about five books to my one...and that includes Infinite Jest! I suppose what that means is I should get off the computer and get busy reading right this minute.

That said, I can't resist complimenting you on yet another delightful review. I like the way that you describe his writing: he makes it seem as if it's an easy thing to do. And it's an easy thing for me to pick up this novel and see if his judgment-impaired protagonist can be saved from himself.


Steve I'm pretty certain you'll enjoy this one, Susan. So I agree with you that you can easily pick it up and see for yourself. What I can't agree with, though, is that I ever outread you, at least not for any stretches where your teaching load is reasonable.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan But then, my teaching load doesn't require a 90 minute commute each way, plus a full day in an office...

And let's not forget that Infinite Jest sits at the top your recent reading list. Even if it was the only book you read last summer, you would have outread me, since it probably counts for 4 or 5 standard-length novels!


message 4: by Mochamomma (new)

Mochamomma I miss you guys. I love you guys. You do the best book commentary and I try to read every single one.


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan This is an example of what Steve & I call, "that thing again," because I was just wondering about you, Mocha Momma! Your blog, as ever, is to die for...first thing that came to my mind, as in "my morning cup of Gevalia Colombian, mixed with a slightly rounded teaspoon of Trader Joe's European Sipping Chocolate (available only around the holidays, sadly), is to die for."


Steve Having Susan compare you to her morning cup is high praise indeed, MM.

I remember when we first came into e-contact with you by way of your fabulous blog, you listed your profession as something like "literacy coach." It's nice to know that we contribute in any way to that residual part of your life.

GR is just right for me. Blogging takes so much creativity and hard work. Only a select few of you are cut out for that. Facebook doesn't seem like a great fit for me either -- I lack the photogenic face even with a pint to cover half of it. So I'm happily left to trade thoughts and titles with fellow book nerds. Glad to see you're still in that camp, too.

It's so nice of you to stop by to spread all that mocha love and goodness. You're on the receiving end of the same, no less sincere for its skim milk origins.


message 7: by Mark (new)

Mark Great review, Steve! You and Scott have sold me on trying Walter!


Steve Good news, Mark. Welcome to the club! I've been looking for the right kind of recruits for a while now.


message 9: by Mark (new)

Mark Hot dog, I'm glad to be aboard!


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