BOOK: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter (2009)

A financial newspaper reporter for over a decade, Matthew Prior quit his day job a few years back to start his own business, a (ridiculous) web enterprise called “Poetfolio.com” in which he planned to offer readers daily stock and economic tips in the form of poetry.

No big surprise (especially since he’s a lousy poet — each chapter starts with a sampling of his verse, which was pretty wretched for the most part), the site went belly-up in no time, leaving Matthew broke and jobless.  After some groveling, he managed to get rehired at the paper . . . only to get laid off a few months later when the newspaper industry took a dive.

Now, struggling to find work that isn’t completely demoralizing, Matthew spends his days taking care of his elderly father, job hunting, and struggling to hide what his accountant has dubbed “fiscal ebola” from his wife and kids.  Making matters worse, he’s missed so many mortgage payments the bank is going to take the house.  He’s also just discovered his wife is on the verge of starting an extramarital affair with her old jock boyfriend from college, a lumber salesman named Chuck.  Ouch.

Up late one night, swimming in self-loathing, Matthew decides to make a midnight run to 7-11 for some milk.  There, he runs into a group of 20-somethings who offer him a few drags of marijuana.  Initially reluctant, Matthew gives in after some good-natured ribbing, takes a few tokes, and immediately experiences one of the best highs of his life.

And then he gets this great idea, see?  He’ll spend the last $10K he has on as much of that amazing pot as he can get, sell it to people he knows and trusts (he does, after all, have a solid “in” with the mid-life crisis demographic), and make enough money in just a few weeks to save his house.  Which, in turn, will save his marriage.

Brilliant!

Um.  Until he gets caught by the cops before he even gets started.  Whoops!

Though it took me a while to get into this novel (starts off a bit sluggish), I ended up really enjoying it.  It’s got a quirky sense of humor, and though I found the characters a little weakly drawn (not to mention the fact they do all kinds of unbelievable stuff — not even William Carlos Williams could’ve made a site like Poetfolio.com succeed, and Matthew (and by turns author Jess Walter) is nooooo William Carlos Williams), I was definitely entertained.  Will be looking for more by this author soon — anybody got any suggestions on where to go next?  Citizen Vince?

[FICTION]

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