Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Tour and Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

I would like to give a huge Thank You to Trish from TLC Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour!  This was a great story that really swept you away in this downward spiral of one man's life.

Here is a summary of The Financial Lives of the Poets from the Harper Collins website:

In the winning and utterly original novels Citizen Vince and The Zero, Jess Walter ("a ridiculously talented writer"—New York Times) painted an America all his own: a land of real, flawed, and deeply human characters coping with the anxieties of their times. Now, in his warmest, funniest, and best novel yet, Walter offers a story as real as our own lives: a tale of overstretched accounts, misbegotten schemes, and domestic dreams deferred.

A few years ago, small-time finance journalist Matthew Prior quit his day job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse. When his big idea—and his wife's eBay resale business— ends with a whimper (and a garage full of unwanted figurines), they borrow and borrow, whistling past the graveyard of their uncertain dreams. One morning Matt wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. Is this really how things were supposed to end up for me, he wonders: staying up all night worried, driving to 7-Eleven in the middle of the night to get milk for his boys, and falling in with two local degenerates after they offer him a hit of high-grade marijuana? 

Or, he thinks, could this be the solution to all my problems?
Following Matt in his weeklong quest to save his marriage, his sanity, and his dreams, The Financial Lives of the Poets is a hysterical, heartfelt novel about how we can reach the edge of ruin—and how we can begin to make our way back. 

My Review:
I want to start my review by saying that to be totally honest with you, when I started this book I didn't think that I would enjoy it at all.  But I found that once I reached the second chapter that I couldn't put this book down!  This novel is very timely considering the state of our economy right now, and I could realistically see how easily a story like this could happen to anyone.  In a sense this book reminded me of The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, in that circumstances were just spinning out of control because of one bad decision.

Drug use usually does turn me off, but in this book it seemed so fitting and realistic to me.  Who's to say that if the average American is in similar circumstances to Matt's, unemployed, in debt up to his eyeballs and a week from losing his house, that if the opportunity arose he or she wouldn't smoke a little marijuana?  Nothing else seemed to work for Matt up to this point, so what did he have to lose?  So when Matt meets a couple of guys late one evening at the 7-11, they welcome him back to a way of life that he left behind in his college days.

Matt knows that his home life is falling to pieces.  As he tries to take care of his father that is suffering from dementia, still send his children to a private school while being unemployed, and try to monitor his wife Lisa's online flirtatious behavior with her old boyfriend Chuck, he just doesn't know how much more he can deal with!  After another late night outing at the 7-11 Matt thinks that he may have a temporary solution to his financial problems, but what looks like a quick fix to his dilemma may turn his problems into the worst nightmare he could possibly imagine.

If you read the summary above, you can see that Matt's failed business had to do with crafting poetry from financial journalism.  He obviously wanted to try to keep the poetry alive in his life, so snippets of verse were inserted in various parts of this novel.  Some of the poems were very thoughtful, raw, and honest, while others were just downright hilarious!  Here is a snippet of one of his poems from page 41 when Matt is contemplating when exactly moms started wearing thongs:
And that is the issue I will run on
when I eventually run:
Getting our moms out of thongs
and back into hammocks
with leg holes
the way God

This book is such a good reminder that we really do need to appreciate the things that we do have.  It will make you think that maybe what you have now is really all you need, so why do we always want more?  By wanting and getting more we are actually setting ourselves up for failure if a crisis should occur, as it had for Matt.  Here is an excerpt from page 98 where Matt admits where he went wrong:
And my disappointment is not that my own home has lost half its value.  What disappoints me is me-that I fell for their propaganda when I knew better, that I actually allowed myself to believe that a person could own a piece of the world when the truth is that anything you try to own ends up owning you.

There are so many twists and turns for Matt as we follow him through his life during this time, but they are well worth it.  When Matt compares life in general to the game "Jenga", meaning that it could all fall apart at any time, it made me stop and think how true that is for so many Americans right now.  This book is well worth reading and may help you to re-assess your own lifestyle.  I highly recommend it, but also I feel that I need to disclose that there is a fair amount of drug use and profanity that I know many readers do not appreciate.  To find out more about Jess Walter and view his other books please check out his website.

My Rating: 4/5

**Excerpts are taken from an Uncorrected Proof copy so they may be different in the final print version.
This book was provided to me to review as part of the TLC Book Tour.  You can view all of the stops for this tour at the TLC Book Tour website here.


Lisa said...

I really liked this one, too. I was surprised that Walker could find so much humor is such dire circumstances. My review is here:

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds good, but when you say it was like that Sand and Fog book, well I watched the movie and it was sooo depressing. Perhaps not the book for me then

Jo-Jo said...

Lisa: Thanks for leaving the link to your review. I'm glad you enjoyed this one also.

Blodeuedd: Although this one had dire circumstances, as Lisa indicated, it was still humorous. As far as the Sand and Fog book goes, that is one example of whent he book was much better than the movie.

Anonymous said...

sounds good and I like that's it is topical. I have it in my TBR pile. Although I do some reviews I happened to pick it up when volunteering at my NPR station last week!

bermudaonion said...

It's such a treat when you end up loving a book you didn't think you'd like. Great review!

Jo-Jo said...

Writergal: Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy this one too.

Kathy: It sure is a treat...and I gobbled this one up!

Serena said...

I didn't accept this tour because I didn't think I would like this book, but I may have to give it a second look.

Ti said...

I thought I had already responded to this but I see now that I didn't! From the cover, I don't think I would have ever picked this one up. However, everyone seems to like it. I may give it a looksie if I ever catch-up with my pile.

Jo-Jo said...

Serena: I thought of you whenever I read the poetry sections of this book.

Ti: The cover of the uncorrected proof was worse. It's a plain white cover and reminds me of a financial textbook...yuk! I know I wouldn't have picked it for the cover.

trish said...

ROFL!! That poem is hilarious! I'm not into poetry, so that was turning me off to this book, but I think I'd totally be into it. Thanks to your review, I'll actually end up reading this book! :)

Thanks for being on this tour!

Jo-Jo said...

Trish: The poetry was just little snippets here and there so it really wasn't overwhelming at all. I really found myself zipping through this book because I was enjoying it so much.

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