Here’s a book I never would have chosen for myself in a million years, but which actually turned out to be better than I thought it would. The Financial Lives of Poets follows one week in the life of a middle-aged guy named Matt Prior. Matt lives somewhere in America with his wife, two young sons and senile father. Matt used to be a newspaper business writer, but he took a buy-out so he could start a website which would deliver financial advice through poetry. It’s no surprise that it flopped. A couple bad investments and the economy’s belly flop later and Matt (and his family) are in serious financial trouble.
The plot of The Financial Lives of the Poets really begins when Matt hits the 7-11 to buy a gallon of milk. He’s not sleeping much these days – his mind is in a constant state of chaos trying to figure out how he’ll pay the bank the $30,000 plus he’s missed in mortgage payments, how he’ll keep his two young sons in private Catholic school and how, most importantly, he’ll keep their dire situation from his wife, a woman he loves but is sure is having an Internet relationship with an old boyfriend. At the 7-11 he meets a couple of low-level thugs. He ends up getting stoned with them and before you know it, Matt’s selling hydroponic weed.
Despite its serious subject matter, The Financial Lives of Poets is often laugh-out-loud funny.
Should anyone doubt that our miserable time here on Earth is just a sad existential joke, here is the cruelest thing I can imagine describing: my father (who is obsessed with sex, like a lot of dementia sufferers) – at seventy-one years of age, frail, balding, with a paunch that looks like it should wear its own pair of jockey shorts – recently had ten days of crazy sex with a twenty-one-year-old stripper with long smooth legs and two big round silicone funbags, and the poor son-of-a-bitch doesn’t remember a thing about it.
Despite the often comical narrative, Walter tackles some weighty issues: how do people cope with the failing health of their parents, (Matt’s desire for his father to have just one moment of lucidity is heartbreaking); how do you save a marriage, why are we so concerned with having more stuff …The Financial Lives of Poets doesn’t necessarily offer solutions, but time spent with Matt as he works through his problems is time well-spent. Funny and intelligent.