Well I’m on a roll. Three losers in a row. The Broken Window, The Marriage Plot, and now The Financial Lives of Poets. Here’s how Jess Walter sets it up: Matthew’s a laid-off journalist in danger of losing home and wife. One night he goes out to a 7/11 for milk, falls in with some gangbangers, and decides to turn to dealing marijuana as a way to solve his finances. Oh, and he suspects his wife of having an affair with an old high-school sweetheart. Oh, and his demented father is living in the house.
The premise is not impossible, but Matthew is. He’s got a sly wit, which gives the book a compelling voice for a while, but he’s such a weak and unfocused character that it’s impossible to maintain sympathy with him through all his horrendous choices and disastrous analyses of the situations and people he encounters. Though the writing has moments, it’s often flabby, and the last section could be a textbook for why show-don’t-tell is an author’s mantra, overused though it may be. He does maintain good parenting skills with his two boys throughout, giving them advice he’d have been better off taking himself. I’m sure that’s Walters’ point, but it doesn’t save the book.