Friday, July 29, 2011

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Matt Prior, a hapless, middle-aged protagonist, is on a late-night milk run at the 7/11 when he meets with destiny in the form of Skeet and Jamie, two stoned, twenty-something gangbangers with unfortunate tattoos and uncertain futures. Despite the trappings of upper-middle class, Matt's future is equally uncertain. A former journalist, he quit his job at the newspaper to pursue the creation of an unlikely website that synthesized two of his key interests - investment advice and blank verse poetry. After the predictable demise of, Matt is quickly burning through his limited resources and is now in imminent danger of losing his house to the bank and his wife to an ex-boyfriend.

So it is just another in a string of bad choices that finds Matt taking hits from a glass pipe as he chauffers Jamie and Skeet to a party of similarly low-rolling derelict youths, while the boys, in the argot of their peer group, eloquently expound on the provenance of the marijuana that the trio are smoking:

“Shit’s designer. Like three hunnerd an ounce," Skeet says.

The next roll of coughs I can’t suppress. "Really?"

"Definitely," Jamie explains, voice lilting with excitement. "In this lab in British Columbia? This Nobel Prize dude? He Frankensteined that shit? It’s knock-off, but shit’s still pretty good. They can do whatever you want to it, you know? Make it do a thousand different things to your mind, yo.”
Readers familiar with Showtime's hit television series Weeds (and even those who are not) will find the direction that Matt's plight takes unsurprising, but Jess Walter, an extremely talented novelist in whose hands the characters of Matt’s new juvenile delinquent friends and senile father are each rendered with fantastic believability, intricately weaves narrative sub-threads into this perhaps predictable plot line to balance humor with pathos as Matt’s world unravels in the wake of his increasingly desperate decisions.

Yes, despite Matt’s on-rushing collapse amidst the same mortgage crisis that is a harsh reality for many of us, The Financial Lives of the Poets surprisingly turns out to be the funniest book I’ve read in a long time and Jess Walter, a new author to follow.