Monday, November 11, 2013

The Financial Lives of the Poets ~ Jess Walter

The winner of the signed copy of Beautiful Ruins is ... (drumroll please) ... KAYLEIGH at Nylon Admiral!  Yay for her! Kayleigh, you can e-mail me at jlmarck AT gmail DOT com with your address and I will get it out to you.  I give you due warning: since you live on the other side of the world, I WILL be shipping it as cheaply as possible, so it might take a while to get there.

In addition to Beautiful Ruins, I picked up (and got signed) a copy of The Financial Lives of the Poets at the Texas Book Festival.  Ever since I read Beautiful Ruins, I've been meaning to read more by Jess Walter, so this was the perfect excuse to finally make that happen.  And it did not disappoint.
Financial Lives is narrated by Matt, a hilarious man with terrible timing who is on the edge of financial ruin.  After the economy crashes, all of Matt and his wife's "normal" financial escapades (car loans, refinancing x3, private school, Matt giving up his reliable, paying job to start a business verse) suddenly seem a lot less normal and a lot more dangerous.  The book opens on Matt trying to figure out how to raise $30,000 in a week so that he doesn't lose his house.  Matt hasn't told his wife that they're sinking into financial ruin, how he plans to save the family, or that he knows she's been talking to her ex-boyfriend.  As the book progresses, Matt simultaneously becomes increasingly desperate and manic, but consistently hilarious.

What first struck me about this book is how different it is from Beautiful Ruins.  Beautiful Ruins spans decades and continents, with a giant cast of characters and third-person perspectives, some of whom are real people.  Financial Ruins spans a week following one man who never goes more than an hour from his home.  In some ways, though, both are very similar: simultaneously hilarious and deeply serious, with a knack for seeing the ridiculous in the every day.

I've found that I really like books that take place during the recession and this was no exception.  There's something about the relevance that makes it easy to immerse myself in these storylines.  That said, at most times I kind of hated Matt.  His constant belief that all his choices were reasonable and the hubris to start a poetry/business website (which has got to be so niche that it could never be more than a hobby) just made me want to smack him.  His refusal to give up even the smallest luxuries, like cable TV or lunches out (EVERY FREAKING DAY WTF) made me want to keep smacking.  Of course, that was the point.  Walter is clearly satirizing the mindset that we all somehow deserve these things regardless of our actual financial situations, which is, of course, part of what led to so many individuals' financial ruins.  Published in 2009, Financial Lives is fantastically topical, turning a critical eye on American consumerism but still managing to be entertaining.

Financial Lives didn't stop me in my tracks like Beautiful Ruins, but it was still a fun novel that had me laughing and complaining out loud (my husband will never have to read this since he heard my very loud responses to every one of Matt's ridiculous decisions).  I'm really impressed by Walter's range and can't wait to read more by him.


  1. Yay!! I never win anything, ever, so this is brilliant! I can't wait to read it.

  2. I love reading your reviews of books we've both read, cos I feel like we often have the same thoughts but come to different conclusions. For example, I also hated Matt and wanted to smack him several times, and I think this is why I didn't like it as much as you. I liked it. It was funny but mostly I was frustrated with the guy. I think I needed a voice of reason, one Matt CLEARLY wouldn't listen to, to tell him his whole idea is stupid from the beginning.