Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Financial Lives of the Poets - Jess Walter


Call it a moment of weakness. But in the middle of a self-imposed ban on all review copies, here comes sweet-talking Trish with TLC Book Tours , waving this beauty at me. There was really no thinking involved, just a knee-jerk reaction, after hearing all the wonderful things about "The Financial Lives of the Poets". This was the perfect set-up...I knew it was recommended, but had no idea what it was about. It was good thing too, because it had maximum impact.

Synopsis: Frankly, on the surface, it sounds like a buzz-kill. Matt the financial reporter abandons his steady but boring job to start a website that provides financial advice in prose form. Ohhhh kaaaaay. Not a shocker when that fails, and he comes crawling back to the newspaper, only to be canned soon after, as newspapers are wont to do these days. He is faced with a dire situation - the bank is about to foreclose on his house, he can't find another job, he has a family to support, and his wife has been dallying with an old boyfriend on Facebook. Am I the only one who has heard stories like this over the last couple of years and is weary from the suffering?

But stay with me. So dude goes to the local 7/11 to get milk at 3 in the morning, and gets mixed up with some gang-bangers who reacquaint him with escapism via new-age amped-up hooch. And in his drug-induced haze, Matt gets a great idea. He can sell pot to middle-agers like himself who need a reminiscent pick-me-up, and get himself out of debt!!! The clouds part! His problems are solved!

If you think this sounds like a block or two off your normal literary highway, you have no idea. Middle-age pot-selling is just scratching the surface of this wild ride.

My thoughts: You could call it fun with an undercurrent of realism. You could call it black comedy. But I'm not sure there is an appropriate box to check off in categorizing this book. Granted, the plot (as left mainly undescribed above to protect the innocent) is just plain crazy. Boil off some of that crazy and you get a commentary on the current state of the union where a hard-working, college-educated guy can't support his family. And rather than roll around in the economic downturn crud we've been slimed with for a few years, Walter chooses to laugh at it, tongue-in-cheek.

But the key element - the selling point that will make you remember the book - is really the witty, sharp-edged, bitter, deliciously rude narration by the protagonist. It comes at you so fast and from so many directions, there is nowhere to run. It was hard to find an example of this, because the whole book is drenched in it, but here is a taste:

"I try to put myself in her position - one day you come home from work a vital twenty-nine-year-old babe, whom the fellas at the office actively lust after and next day you go out looking for work a nearly forty-year-old Mom who colors the gray and doesn't even know PowerPoint, a short-tempered lady who didn't get any sleep last night because one of the kids pooped his bed (how do you poop a bed anyway?). Six months of resumes, referrals and rejections took their toll and Lisa accepted the first job she was offered - receptionist for a dull optometrist who calls the women in his office gals, and whose idea of a Christmas bonus is twenty-five bucks at a craft store."

In the 50 or 100 books you will read this year, I wager you will not read anything that even comes close to this one. There will be some people who may be turned off by the idea of a guy liquidating his retirement fund to buy drugs, who spies on his wife's nocturnal Facebook dalliances, or sometimes thinks of his kids as ungrateful shit-heels. But if you are in the mood for different, you can stop looking now.

Thanks Trish and TLC for the chance to review this one!

4.5 out of 5 stars






28 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I have a review copy of this one and you're making me want to take it off the shelf right now! I love it when books are original and it sounds as though this one is unlike no other. I really hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

JoAnn said...

I hadn't heard much about the plot of this, but it sounds like a hoot! 4.5 stars from Sandy makes me even more likely to read it.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I have heard a few reviews on this one and how good it is -- I love your review! What a wacky premise but it sounds completely hilarious and one that I'd really get into! Why do I feel like a Showtime or HBO series would be made out of a premise like this?

Erin said...

Wow, this certainly sounds original! Not the type of book I usually pick up, but I've had some luck with off-beat books this year. Thanks for your review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review - it certainly does make one want to read the book! And I know just what you mean about that awful temptation of people bearing books!

Alyce said...

It really was different. I was glad I took a chance on this one because it was a little bit out of my comfort zone, but worth it.

Catherine Ensley said...

Ha!ha! I actually know Jess Walter a little, and his sister, quite well. She is the director at the library where I used to work. Anyway, Jess is truly brilliant and funny and capable of charming your socks off. He cultivates the gritty, drug-induced persona you read about in his (satirical) books.

Jenny said...

Your review was so entertaining!! I loved this book as well and you captured it perfectly!

Meg said...

Fun and fresh review, Sandy! I've heard good things about this one but never really bothered to delve deep into the story before your post. Adding this one to my wishlist! And I agree with Coffee and a Book Chick: it sounds like a Showtime TV show in the making.

The Bumbles said...

It is a Showtime series - called Weeds except the widowed wife sells pot to the local kids to keep her own kids supported. Same basic idea - very funny cast. It was also similarly covered in the movie Saving Grace. But in both those cases it was a widow trying to stay afloat. This plot is a different twist. Sounds like a fun ride - I like the teaser you shared too.

The Bumbles said...

It is a Showtime series - called Weeds except the widowed wife sells pot to the local kids to keep her own kids supported. Same basic idea - very funny cast. It was also similarly covered in the movie Saving Grace. But in both those cases it was a widow trying to stay afloat. This plot is a different twist. Sounds like a fun ride - I like the teaser you shared too.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I got a copy of this at BEA. Your first paragraph convinced me both not to read the rest of your review (because I really don't know what it is about either, actually), and also to try to read it soon.

Julie P. said...

I was sure I had this one but no such luck. I'm adding to my list!

Zibilee said...

This was one of the more unusual and surprising books that I have read in the last year, and Walter really makes it work in every way. I loved this book so much, and though it's totally not a PC story, it had me cracking up, and at times, really moved me. Great review on this one Sandy! I am so glad to hear that you loved it!

Alice Teh said...

Hey Sandy! I'm definitely in the mood for different and in fact, I look for different so often, I read all kinds of stuff. This one would appeal to me, I'm sure of it. Thank you!

Darlene said...

I'm not sure this one is for me but I'm glad you really liked it.

Jenners said...

Now I'm wondering if I was somehow offered this by the beguiling Trish and said no because if I did, I'm kicking myself after reading both your review and Alyce's review!

Literary Feline said...

I read another review of this one over the weekend and now after reading your review am intrigued. It sounds like a bizarre book--but definitely in a good way.

Gavin said...

Okay, I've seen this one mentioned before. Just can't remember where. You've convinced me to add it to my list!

ds said...

We all benefit greatly from your moments of "weakness." What an intriguing--and funny--book! You have definitely placed it on the radar, Sandy! Thanks.

S. Krishna said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I've got it to review (I've had it since its hardcover release, ack!) and I hope to get to it soon.

Carrie K. said...

I loved this one, too- so different than what I normally read, hilarious, and extremely well-written. I need to seek out more of his work.

Matt said...

It really echoes the old man who liquidates his retirement for calling a prostitute in Learning to Lose. This book seems to have an original voice in it. I do feel that it is up my alley. Like joAnn said, 4.5/5 from you should be safe to put it on the list.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

Trish can be pretty convincing, can't she?! But it sounds like breaking your review book ban was a good idea in this case. So glad you enjoyed the book! Thanks for being a part of the tour.

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad to see you loved this! I got a copy at SIBA at Heather's urging.

Susan said...

Let's face it, some kids ARE ungrateful shit-heels.

Sounds like my kind of snarky fun!

Melissa M said...

I love going into a book blind, so I admit to just skimming your review and just adding this one to my list!

Kathleen said...

Someone has GOT to make this into a movie!