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The Financial Lives of the Poets    by Jess Walter order for
Financial Lives of the Poets
by Jess Walter
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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*   Reviewed by Bob Walch

At the outset I must say I didn't care for this book. In fact, a number of times I just barely resisted the urge to set it aside and stop reading. I did persevere, but my only reward is being able to say, 'Yes, I did finish it, although I'm truly not sure why I bothered!'

Times are rough. Matt Prior, a 46 year old financial journalist, has been laid off and is about to lose his home. I guess we are supposed to feel sorry for the poor guy, but after 23 pages of complaining about everything from his crappy childhood, disintegrating marriage, and rotten financial situation, I quickly tired of his angst filled, self-pitying rant.

True, he is caring for his senile father and his wife is about to launch an affair with an old high school sweetheart, but Matt is such a loser not even those pieces of information can make me sympathize with him. Like a true anti-hero, Matt seems to deserve what is happening to him.

When a late evening outing to get some milk results in Matt's serendipitous encounter with a couple of druggies, his whole life changes. After a few casual joints with his new buddies, Matt sees a way to reverse his fortunes. He's going to become an upscale drug dealer.

Of course, Matt connects with a group of hapless individuals who are just as pathetic as he is and the whole scheme quickly goes sour. Not only does he blow what little money he has left to purchase marijuana he never sells, but the police also quickly nab him. Forced to cooperate as an informer, Matt even manages to completely derail the sting operation.

Jess Walter has assembled a cast of deeply flawed characters who are reputedly struggling with the anxieties of our time. Matt's misbegotten schemes and inability to deal with reality are supposed to be humorous, but I failed to see anything to laugh about. Perhaps I'm being too hard on him, but I found little to like in his character or the novel.

By the way, if you might be wondering what the book's title has to do with the story, it is related to another one of Matt's ridiculous schemes. He started a website that gave financial news and advice in verse! Of course, that failed too, but it does gives the narrator of this woeful tale an excuse to work poetry into nearly every chapter. Is it very good poetry? What do you think?

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