Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Title I Could Borrow

Awhile back, I needed to come up with a name for a word document that would not draw attention to itself.  What I chose (and I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you) isn't too far from the title of the second book I've read this summer by Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of Poets. As an English instructor with an undergraduate degree in accounting, I couldn't possibly pass up this particular novel, now could I?

I must say, first, that nothing about the plot or the characters of this novel remind me of Walters' most recent success, Beautiful Ruins (which I do believe I've discussed in an earlier post). But the writing is certainly as engaging.

In this case, his protagonist Matthew Prior goes to a 7/11 for milk (at, he claims, nine dollars a gallon) when he runs into young men who turn out to be drug dealers.  They pressure him into giving him a ride to their place (all the while, drinking right out of his jug of milk).  One thing he learns on his late night adventure is that marijuana has certainly changed from his college days.

Prior's foray out of the house at this unlikely hour, readers learn, is motivated in part by the looming disaster in his personal life. He's quit a journalism job and invests in a website offering financial advice incorporating poetry--presumably to make it more interesting.  Needless to say, the venture hasn't realized the success he'd hoped. Meanwhile, he's on the brink of losing his house--and his wife, whom he has discovered is carrying on a texting relationship at least with a former boyfriend.

The lengths he goes to try to remain solvent and to gain an advantage over his wife's old flame are quirky and hilarious. Readers are often one step ahead of Matt as his shenanigans always take the worst possible turns. To compound his misery, his father--suffering from dementia--is living with him and carrying on the same three or four conversations over and over.

Walters manages to turn what sounds like a dark and dreadful story into a genuinely funny adventure.  Interesting enough, I just learned, to lure Jack Black into a movie called Bailout, based on the novel, still listed in IMDB as "in development."  I'm looking forward to seeing what develops.


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