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The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel Paperback – September 7, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 213 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. National Book Award–finalist Walter does for the nation's bleak financial landscape what he did for 9/11 in The Zero: whip-smart satire with heart. Matt Prior quits his job as a business reporter to start Poetfolio.com, a Web site featuring poetry about finance, or money-lit. Unsurprisingly, it tanks, and Matt returns to the newspaper, only to be laid off with a meager severance package. Now not only are the Priors in danger of losing their house, but Matt is convinced that his wife, Lisa, is having an affair with an old boyfriend she rediscovered during her lengthy nightly Facebook sessions. With two sons in overpriced Catholic school and his increasingly senile father to support, Matt's bank accounts dwindle amid his financial planner's dire predictions (diagnosis: fiscal Ebola). When an appealing but illegal moneymaking opportunity presents itself, Matt jumps at the chance. The decision to include snippets of Matt's poetry in the novel was a risky one, but Walter pulls it off, never resorting to pretension or overused metaphors for life's meltdowns. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Walter's wildly funny, heartrending novel is a clever meditation on the American Dream gone horribly wrong. Readers will be rooting for Matt, "a likable everyman" (Christian Science Monitor), even as he commits one painful error after another. Walter's writing crackles with energy, and though he seems to come close to treating some serious topics (drug use, infidelity, mental illness, and bankruptcy) superficially, his affection for his characters and his shrewd assessment of the Priors' financial and familial collapse circumvent that danger. His free-verse poetry, however, interspersed within the narrative, received mixed reviews. Praised as one of today's best new voices, Walter has penned a scathing indictment of contemporary America. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061916056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061916052
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (213 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard L. Pangburn VINE VOICE on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jess Walter writes here in the tradition of James Thurber, E. B. White, and Peter DeVries. This is one of the very best books of 2009, at once a mid-life crisis novel, a work of social and political criticism, and a comic romp.

The prose is constantly engaging, witty throughout, sparkling here and there with gems of insight, fresh and delightful turns of phrase, irony within irony. The story is built around the economic downturn and the ensuing consequences that rain down on individual families, a parable for our time. There are several surprising twists in the plot. Don't read reviews that will give them away, but wait to discover them in the book.

The picture on the face of the dustjacket is of a man in free-fall toward the dark land below against the sunset-orange of the October sky. Fittingly the narrative takes place in October, traditionally the month of market crashes and Halloween. It is much more attractive than the Amazon picture suggests, a treat to behold, easy to open and easy to read.

When the awards are passed out for best novels of the year, this one should be on the short list.
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Format: Hardcover
Funny, lyrical, inspiring, it reads
Like the best literary fiction should.
The plot is sort of like "Weeds,"
But good.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Matt Prior's life has broken down. He's been living the American dream, but like many people who never thought it could happen to him, he's been caught up in the financial meltdown. He's unemployed, deeply in debt, on the verge of foreclosure, caring for his dementia-ridden father, and cluelessly struggling to save his troubled marriage.

I've read all of Jess Walter's books, and I think they are all terrific in their own way. Financial Lives of the Poets is his warmest, funniest, and most poignant novel. It's a scathing (but all too true) satire of life in modern day America. Despite the incredible wit and humor, Walter never goes over the top, but remains rooted in a reality with which we can all identify. Shockingly, in channeling Matt's poetic voice, Walter reveals himself to be a talented poet in his own right.

This is the best novel I've read in 2009, and plan to read it again.
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Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put down Jess Walter's latest novel. What a voice! And the way he describes exactly what is going on in the world economy and how we average men have to deal with it is not only scathing, but simple and real. He should be writing Obama's speeches! I just loved reading about Matt's adventures as he tries to save his family from ruin, but just kept driving himself deeper into the well. I honestly didn't know how it would end, and when it did, I was floored. I was wondering what happens now? But Mr. Walters completed the journey just the way it should end--with humor poignancy and again, realism. We may fall flat on our faces, but we get up and start all over again. Isn't that how it should be??
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having just finished Beautiful Ruins, I couldn't wait to get my hands on another Jess Walter book. The first half of The Financial Lives of the Poets was a delight, -- beautifully written, at times hilarious, and so topical. I loved the cynical, beaten down, yet slyly humorous voice of the narrator, the journalism references, the evocation of the recent financial meltdown with all its villains and struggles. The poetry was wonderful, too. But midway through, I thought the novel really jumped the shark. The plot veered from gentle satire to something over-the-top, and the tone grew darker.I'm still a huge fan, but this book didn't quite fulfill the expectations I had at the outset.
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Format: Hardcover
In all honesty, the title of this book, the cover too... this would have been a book that I more than likely would have passed on if I had seen it in the book store. I am here now writing this review telling you not to do that! When Matt Prior loses his job he finds himself wallowing in reruns of The Rockford Files and becoming more paranoid about his wife's on line flirtations.... when Matt winds up with an opportunity to sell drugs to help out his financial woes, at this point only days away from losing his home and pulling his kids out of a private school... he jumps into a humorous look at what people will do at the breaking point.

I would say in today's world of economic uncertainties this book is surely a timely fictitious story of riches to rags... to living with the knowledge that it is possible to take a deep breath and live within our means... even if our means isn't what we had hoped and dreamed. There are more important things than money, big homes, and two cars.... and Matt Prior takes the long way around to finding this out.
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After the first thirty or so pages of this book, I began to regret not getting it in audiobook form. My husband would have loved it listening to it with me.

Then it stopped being funny. I won't say where in the story.

There are no likeable characters in this book. I found it impossible to root for Matt, the protagonist, an ex-newspaper guy who still doesn't get why he's out of a job and why the industry in general is crumbling. (It's because people don't like what newspapers publish now, not because there isn't a market for journalism.) His aloof wife Lisa is equally hard to relate to. Instead of talking to him she locks herself in her bedroom and sexts with old boyfriends. And for some reason he seems to think she's some sort of saint and that maybe he deserves being cheated on.

Matt is a genuinely confused man. At the end of the book I had no hope that he would make better choices, because he didn't seem to have learned anything.
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