The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel

( 70 )


What happens when small-time reporter Matthew Prior quits his job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse? Before long, he wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. . . . Until, one night on a desperate two a.m. run to 7-Eleven, he falls in with some local stoners, and they end up hatching the biggest?and most ...

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The Financial Lives of the Poets

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What happens when small-time reporter Matthew Prior quits his job to gamble everything on a quixotic notion: a Web site devoted to financial journalism in the form of blank verse? Before long, he wakes up to find himself jobless, hobbled with debt, spying on his wife's online flirtation, and six days away from losing his home. . . . Until, one night on a desperate two a.m. run to 7-Eleven, he falls in with some local stoners, and they end up hatching the biggest—and most misbegotten—plan yet.

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Editorial Reviews

Dallas Morning News
“Jess Walter is a brilliant writer, one of the freshest new voices in American literature.”
Washington Post
“A deliciously antic tale of an American dream gone very sour...part noir gumshoe, part average Joe, [Matt Prior] is a sharp, wide-eyed, soulful observer, with a keen eye for the layers of bureaucracy and doublespeak.”
Los Angeles Times
“Darkly funny, surprisingly tender . . . witheringly dead-on.”
Kansas City Star
“In this cautionary tale of fiscal follies and collapse Walter delivers a comic and gut-wrenching fable for these impecunious times.”
New York Daily News
“Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets is gasp out loud funny. It’s also sufficiently true to life that you’re grateful it’s not your life. Middle-class mayhem is just the best, at least in Walter’s hands.”
The New Yorker
“The novel has warmth, and its protagonist emerges as a bourgeois Everyman of the downturn.”
Seattle Times
“Matt Prior . . . is an Everyman for our parlous times.”
Arizona Republic
“Would be so sad if it weren’t so funny, and so funny if it weren’t so sad. . . . Compassionate, witty and drawn from today’s heartless world, it’s a terrific book.”
Christian Science Monitor
“An extremely funny novel…a very smart meditation on what’s gone wrong with both the US economy and those of us who are expected to keep it running…cleverly designed and immensely entertaining.”
Richard Russo
“When it comes to explaining to me my own too often baffling nation, there’s no one writing today whom I trust as completely as Jess Walter. His intelligence and sympathy and great wit inform every page—indeed every sentence—of his terrific new novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets. ”
Nick Hornby
“Walter is one of my favorite young American writers. . . . [Financial Lives] made me laugh more than any other book published this year.”
Time magazine
“The funniest way-we-live-now book of the year.”
New West
“Hilarious and timely…Walter grounds the story with moments of genuine feeling…bitter, funny and accurate…Jess Walter’s buoyant voice is a fresh pleasure.”
Sam Lipsyte
“Jess Walter’s smart and big-hearted take on our bleak national moment is a welcome relief. The Financial Lives of the Poets is a rollicking fiction and an affecting family portrait, as well as a mordantly funny cautionary tale.”
Sarah Vowell
“Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets is a comic, graceful parable of marriage and money troubles in which a well-meaning family man makes decisions that are seriously stupid—and entertaining and American.”
Janet Maslin
“[Walter is a] deft humorist and catastrophist. . . . dangerously astute.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“A refreshing reminder that fiction remains a relevant, vital way to understand ourselves.”
Spokane Spokesman-Review
“America’s first Great Recession novel.”
Sara Nelson
“A real find….the ultimate something-for-everyone-don’t-skip-must-read.”
Ben Fountain
“One of the best American writers working today.…It’s a testament to this author’s genius that I could not stop laughing even as he drives home some necessary truths. Walter has written a profound, and profoundly funny, book; this may well be the classic novel of our post-boom era.”
Maureen Corrigan
“[A] superb farce.”
Jeffrey Burke
“A comic masterpiece… packed [with] life and wry truth.”
Whitney Terrell
“Confirms Jess Walter as a writer of the first rank.…his eye keen for the true values of the human heart. This is a hopped-up, raucous stunner of a novel with a hero who’s funny enough to make you weep for what we’ve lost.”
The Must List
“Cynical yet warm, this novel about a financial reporter (with a failing website written entirely in blank verse) is a delight.”
Janet Maslin
The Financial Lives of the Poets is less memorable for its title than for the success with which it captures fiscal panic and frustration. Matt ambles though this book delivering blistering wisecracks about the factors that contributed to his family's fall. From an eBay shopping addiction (Lisa thought she was buying valuable collectibles) to a scathing thumbnail summary of the changes destroying the newspaper business, this book is all too dangerously astute. Mixing financial advice with poetry is a terrible idea. But combining the elements of tragedy with a sitcom sensibility is a good one. And it's what Jess Walter continues to do best.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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, 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.)
Library Journal
A new novel by the Edgar Award-winning author of Citizen Vince is cause for celebration; though tedious passages of indulgent free verse threaten to derail an otherwise promising premise, Walter manages to pull it off with zippy dialog and a likable, if extremely flawed, main character. Matt Prior is a former journalist who bailed from his newspaper job to start a misconceived web site——featuring literary writing about the financial world. Now his web site is floundering, and he has no job prospects in sight. Convinced that his wife's furtive text messages signal an affair with a high school flame and desperate for cash to prevent his mortgage lender from foreclosing on their house, Matt stumbles into an unlikely money-making venture: drug dealer to the middle-aged. Fans of the TV series Weeds will not be disappointed. Manic, sleep-deprived, cringe-inducing hilarity ensues as Prior sinks lower and lower toward rock bottom before he finds a glimmer of redemption. VERDICT Prior is a zany, foul-mouthed Willy Loman in search of a stimulus package, and readers looking for some humor with their layoff notices will certainly relate.—Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA
Kirkus Reviews
Unemployed suburban dad teetering on the brink comes up with a high-risk, recession-proof way to get out of debt. The American Dream, for former newspaper journalist and failed Web entrepreneur Matt Prior, is not living up to its hype. Broke after sinking his savings into, a website catering to his twin passions for financial advice and free-verse poetry, he owes more on his house than it's worth and has to contend with the knowledge that his sexy wife Lisa is carrying on a virtual affair with her high-school boyfriend Chuck, with whom she reconnected on Facebook. Private-school tuition for his two young sons and the care for his elderly dementia-addled father add to his woes. But as dire as it looks-and sardonic Matt is fully aware of the role he has played in his personal ruin-opportunity emerges in the unlikeliest of places. He meets a couple of local youths at his neighborhood 7-Eleven and, after a surreal evening spent smoking really good marijuana with them, realizes that some businesses are most definitely not hurting in this troubled economy. So he decides to become a 46-year-old pot dealer, selling to other middle-aged, middle-class types. Through his new friends he gets hooked up with a local grow operation called "Weedland" and finds there is definitely a clientele for his high-quality product, which he vows he will only sell until he gets solvent again. Nothing, of course, goes according to plan, and Matt gets to see any remaining black-and-white notions he ever had get obliterated-for his own good. Walter's bitterly funny follow-up to The Zero (2006) could not be more topical in its depiction of a leveraged to-the-hilt culture run amuck, and wiseass Matt makesfor a distinctly flawed Everyman running out of chances. Midlife crisis farce laced with some larger truths about how we live now.
Time Magazine
"The funniest way-we-live-now book of the year."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062359834
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/16/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 183,335
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jess Walter

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.


Jess Walter is the author of four novels -- The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Award for best novel, Land of the Blind and Over Tumbled Graves, a 2001 New York Times notable book -- as well as the nonfiction book Every Knee Shall Bow(rereleased as Ruby Ridge), a finalist for the PEN Center West literary nonfiction award in 1996.

A career journalist, Walter also writes short stories, essays and screenplays. He was the co-author of Christopher Darden's 1996 bestseller In Contempt. His work has appeared in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

His books have been published in sixteen countries and fourteen languages. He lives with his wife Anne and children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec in Spokane, Washington.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Walter:

"I am one of the organizers of the largest outdoor basketball tournament in the world."

"I have been in one (1) independent movie for which I grew one (1) righteous mustache."

"I come from a family of failed cattle ranchers."

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    1. Hometown:
      Spokane, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 20, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Spokane, Washington
    1. Education:
      B.A., Eastern Washington University, 1987
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 70 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 14, 2013

    Well-told tale

    An amusing tale of a man who makes a series of bad decisions and the reader can almost understand why. The topics are serious and timely but told with such humor you can't really be dragged down. I recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013


    Pads in.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An emotional, poignant novel

    I have to admit, a novel titled The Financial Lives of The Poets is not something I would normally rush to read. Why would I care about finance and poets? But since people I respect raved about this book, I gave it a try.

    I'm so glad I did! Jess Walter has written a dazzling story of a young suburban family in the throws of the national economic crisis that threatens not only their financial stability but their very existence as a family unit.

    Matt left his job as a business writer at a newspaper to follow his dream- a website devoted to financial news, with advice columns written in poetry. Even in the best of times, this sounds like a risky venture. Matt and his wife Lisa take another mortgage on their house to invest in the company, and then the housing market crashes.

    Matt goes back to his job at the newspaper, only to be laid off when newspapers begin to lose advertisers and readers. Lisa works at a boring job she hates for little money and expresses her dissatisfaction by buying collectibles that she hopes to resell on Ebay. Now their garage is filled with boxes of junk she is unable to unload.

    Their house will soon be in foreclosure, and their children will be forced to leave their lovely Catholic school and go to the dangerous neighborhood public school. Matt's father, who suffers from dementia, has moved in with them after he met a stripper who stole all of his money, and Lisa is contemplating an affair with her old boyfriend. What's a man to do?

    After Matt meets up with some young potheads at the 7-11 one night, he becomes enmeshed in their lives. He hangs out with them hoping to forget his troubles. Eventually, as sometimes happens when under the influence of pot, a plan is created that Matt hopes will solve his money problems.

    The author writes well for his characters. The disintegrating marriage of Matt and Lisa is sad to watch.
    "We're in a perpetual stalemate here; lost. I can see how we got here- after each bad decision, after each failure we quietly logged our blame, our petty resentments; we constructed a case against each other that we never prosecuted. As long as both cases remained unstated, the charges sealed, we had a tacit peace; you don't mention this and I won't mention that, this and that growing and changing and becoming everything, until the only connection between us was this bridge of quiet guilt and recrimination."
    While Lisa and Matt fall apart, Matt's relationship with his dad is so touching. Anyone who has someone in their own family with dementia will relate to Matt and his dad, the loving patience Matt shows his father, the loss of a once-proud man's self-reliance.

    Fans of Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You should run to get this book. As a woman, I find this glimpse into the male psyche fascinating. (The cover is even reminiscent of TV's Mad Men opening credits with the falling man.) Matt's poetry is cleverly sprinkled throughout the book, adding an extra dimension for the reader. Walter's look at the economic crisis through the prism of this one family is an emotional, poignant ride.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    Current, Witty, Laugh Out Loud

    I was hooked by page 3. A current novel set amongst the wreckage of the recent financial meltdown, it touches on romance, drugs, deceit, the American Dream, redemption, and a bit of clever poetry. It's a quick, funny read that I shared with my 18 yr old daughter, who laughed in all the same places I did. Wonderful comic imagery, captivating writing. Can't wait to read his other books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Great Read

    The economy hasn't been kind to Matt Prior. A business newspaper journalist, he decided to make the big jump to start his own business. His business idea? A website where investors could go to get investment advice written in poetry. Hmmm, how's that working out for you Matt? Not well. Having used his savings to start the site and quickly realizing that there was no market, Matt jumps back to his newspaper job, just in time for the layoffs that are plaguing that market.

    So, Matt is unemployed, savings gone. His wife, Lisa, went on her own get-rich quick scheme; buying scores of collectibles from Ebay that she planned to store for a few years and sell at a huge profit. To finance this, she has maxed out their credit cards.

    Matt has social problems as well. He is the caretaker for his father. His father's dementia increases every day. Matt's two boys are moving further and further away from him as they grow up. He discovers that Lisa has struck up a relationship with her high school sweetheart online, and it seems ready to move into a more physical realm.

    There they sit, Matt unemployed, Lisa employed in a marginal job, no savings, deep in credit card debt. Matt hasn't even told Lisa that he's been avoiding a foreclosure notice on their house. He visits their financial planner and cashes out everything left. What to do, what to do? Stressed, he leaves his house one night to go get milk for the morning cereal. At the local 7-11, he falls in somehow with a group of stoners, who take him to their apartment, where he gets stoned for the first time in twenty years.

    Suddenly, his great revelation occurs! He can sell pot to finance his way out of financial crisis. There is a whole market of older, professional men and women who used to smoke and would probably jump at the chance to buy some pot from someone they trusted. Matt uses his entire retirement savings to finance this new career choice.

    This all sounds bleak, but in reality, this is one of the most upbeat books I've read lately. I laughed out loud repeatedly, following Matt on his adventures. Jess Walter has a perfect ability to write characters that breathe and stretch on the page, individuals you know in your own life. This ability to make believable characters allows him to stretch reality, as the reader can always see what led the character to make what would normally be a horrible choice. It's fairly uncommon that I read one book by an author and rush out to find more by him, but I'm rushing out for more Jess Walter books. This book is highly recommended for fans of literature and current events.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fun and crazy ride set during the latest financial crisis!

    The Financial Lives of the Poets

    Successful throughout his life, Matt Prior finds himself in the unexpected position of being unemployed, deeply in debt and weeks away from losing his home. Things have been difficult at home and he can't bare to tell his wife the true state of their finances. Matt continues with the everyday life - caring for the children, applying for jobs, negotiating with their mortgage lender, and the usual household chores. When one late night, Matt discovers a possible solution - wacky and dangerous though it may be - to solve their financial hell, he decides to give it a go.

    Review: In Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, Matt Prior goes on a hilarious and absurd adventure triggered by today's financial crisis. Matt has his own crooked logic that will leave you chuckling, whether he's plotting ways to sabotage his wife's flirtation with her high school boyfriend or eke revenge against M_ who laid him or finding ways to reassure his father during his slow descent to senility. A fun and crazy ride - highly recommended!

    Publisher: Harper (September 22, 2009), 304 pages.
    Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013


    Really good. The title may throw you off but this was a clever, sometimes funny book about a serious and currently relevant topic. Give this one a try.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    Helow frekeledkit walks in and says nice to meet u

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    light, enjoyable, funny

    light, enjoyable, funny

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Entertaining read

    I recommend this book. Its entertaining and creative. I would read it again.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not a bad book

    great opener, but it did seem to get a bit tired. Ironically, I just read a similar book of the same theme. I guess it's the time for these stories to come out.


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  • Posted March 22, 2011

    Perspicacious Literature

    This book has enriched me soulfully and educationally in ways indescribable in the English language. The ironic and witty style Jess Walter maintains throughout this book (and other novels) continues to captivate and amaze me. I read this book in an attempt to keep myself busy, seeing that my parents had grounded me, and finished in a matter of days. Looking back there is not one thing I wished would have been different. Because the book is relatively short compared to the widely read unimaginative roman a clefs consumed by people today, I was amazed to find how much I had formed an emotional bond with the characters. I hoped that Matt would successfully sell his pot and that Jamie would get away clean even though I had only known these characters for a matter of days. It could have been partially because Jess Walter is from my town or that Anne Walter was my school's counsilor, but this is one of my favorite reads in all of 2011.

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    Relevant, Current and Poetic

    Jess Walter rights with a voice that is relevant to todays current society. In step with the financial crisis and societal demands facing married couples trying to raise a family and find their way in a world that does not live up to the after college hype of what was once promised. His characters literally trip into a fantasy of what once was and find themselves recreating who they are while trying to hold onto whatever shreds of reality is left to them.
    Humorous and poignant I enjoyed the read, the ride and the revelations.

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  • Posted October 6, 2010

    Great read! Funny and intelligent.

    This is the first book I've read by Jess Walter and am looking forward to reading the others. It's a great read - a simple story told well. The pace is frenetic and the character takes you for a ride along on his life. It is clearly a commentary so you lose a little bit in the depth of the secondary characters but it doesn't make the story any less entertaining. Jess Walters has a very deft hand and uses language brilliantly.

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  • Posted October 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Jess Walter is a pretty funny guy

    This book was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. The protaganist, Matt Prior,finds himself in a tough spot. A victim of the financial crisis, unemployment, and a compulsive and unfaithful wife, Matt is pretty desperate to find a solution to these things. However, his solutions include buying a bunch of wood from his wife's high school sweetheart (which he can't afford) and trying his hand at dealing weed. A brief overview of the plot of this novel might leave you thinking that the book would be gimmicky and stupid, just a written version of Showtime's hit series WEEDS. However, Walter manages to use these plot devices to connect the protagonist and the reader to the realities facing many American's today. Even Matt's obligation to care for his senile father represents a common struggle facing baby boomers today. How do you balance the needs of your wife and kids with the need to care for someone who cared for you your entire life? So while the writting is witty and contains a fair amount of stoner humor, the themes of this novel reach much deeper into the conciousness of the American experience. This book is a great commentary on American greed and the expectations we all have which contributed to our collective struggles in the past few years.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The man circling the drain

    This is a pinhole peep at a man whose life is in disarray. First he loses his job as a journalist, and then, gradually, we see him losing all good sense. Windmilling on the edge of disaster, our protagonist struggles in vain to keep up his end of what had been a life with benefits: a big new house, a wife, and two kids in private school. He had me snorting with runaway laughter. Everything is on the skewed side of perfectly has the sense of trying to reason with someone who's smoked too much pot. Their mind rotates, quickly at first, and then in smaller and smaller circles, until they reach some inevitable stupid conclusion, much like the protagonist in this book. Gets his life in a twist and continues to dig and dig until everything is completely buried. Walter is up to his old tricks in ...Poets, after his huge successes with Citizen Vince and The Zero.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    This was an exceptionally enjoyable and witty book

    While the premise is absurb (financial poetry? come on!) this author is very gifted and I found the pages flying by. Extremely funny and ultimately very satisfying.

    Definitely recommended! I enjoyed it so much I looked up this author's other books but, strangly enough, none of them sounded particicularly good to me -- go figure!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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