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To Be Formerly Young Is To Be Very Sad Is To Be Saved By Getting High

You know when you try to explain something, but you just can’t quite find the words for it? Like when you really like something, but you can’t really explain why. Or when you’re really pissed off at <insert loved one here>, but you don’t know what they did to make you so mad. Or when you had the most vivid dream, but when you start explaining it to whomever is (lucky enough to be) the first person you see in the morning, you realize that there was, in fact, more haze than lucidity in your subconscious. Like when you want to go out for a run, but can’t quite motivate yourself to get off the couch? It’s all a bit like being stoned, isn’t it? 

It’s also more or less how I feel as I sit down to write this review of Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets—and sometimes how I felt as I read it. 

Matt Prior is an out-of-work journalist and failed entrepreneur, who lives in a too-big house, with a too-big mortgage, and a too-beautiful wife who is the recipient of too-friendly Facebook messages from her high school boyfriend (who is also too successful, in Matt’s eyes). Everything in Matt’s life seems to be going wrong: He seems to have ridden every wave and been bursted by every bubble. He is the portrait of Great Recession-era middle class climbers who bit off more than they could chew in their quest for upward mobility. 

Fearing that he is losing his wife, knowing that he is losing his house, Prior hatches an ingenious (he hopes) and short-term (he thinks) plan to stave of the financial death knell. He becomes a drug dealer. Of course, when he conceives of this plan, he is deeply desperate and completely stoned. Aye, there’s the rub.

Could Matt Prior possibly save himself from ruin by becoming a pot dealer to his friends and fellow middle-aged nostalgists? He made a lot of mistakes by doing all the “right” things; maybe doing the “wrong” thing will save him.

It’s this sense of teetering on the edge, the looming question of whether Matt will save his home, his marriage, his life as he knows it, or whether he is just in it too deep to be redeemed, that make this book such so compelling. The first sixty-five pages or so dragged for me, but I gobbled up the rest in about three sittings over a Friday evening and Saturday. The Financial Lives… is at times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. It’s a bit like being stoned, isn’t it?

It’s also more or less like being human.

*The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter is available from in paperback and as an e-book from Harper Perennial

FTC Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of the book I received from the publisher.

November 2010 Books

October 2010 Books