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The Financial Lives of the Poets

Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets

Jess Walter

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The Financial Lives of the Poets Summary

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The Financial Lives of the Poets is a 2009 comedic novel by Jess Walter. A journalist by trade, Walter used the information he gathered for stories about the 2008 financial crisis to write the novel. The Financial Lives of the Poets was named one of the best books of the year by several media outlets, including Time magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.

The main character of The Financial Lives of the Poets, Matt Prior, is a financial journalist who has just been laid off from work at the beginning of the novel. Matt is struggling to make payments on his home to keep it from being repossessed; his severance payment from his former job is about to run out. He has not told his wife, Lisa, how serious their financial situation is, though she is aware that they are having troubles. Also living in the house with Matt and Lisa are the couple’s two young sons, Teddy and Franklin, and Matt’s father, Jerry, who has early onset dementia.

While still employed as a journalist, Matt attempted to start a website where people employed in the financial industry could post poetry and other forms of creative writing. Matt envisioned this as a counterpoint to his own dry journalism, which would provide another kind of insight into the industry. However, the website was a failure, further compounding Matt’s debt.



One night, while picking up groceries, Matt meets two teenage stoners named Skeet and Jamie. The boys ask Matt to drive them to a party, and Matt agrees. On the way to the party, Skeet and Jaime get high with him. Getting high allows Matt to forget about his problems for a while, and the next day he can’t stop thinking about how much better it made him feel.

The next day, Matt cashes in his retirement savings to help pay for household expenses. He does not tell Lisa about this, though when he returns home he finds out that his wife has been flirting with old boyfriends online. Depressed, Matt returns to the store where he met Skeet and Jaime. The boys are not there, so Matt goes to the location of the party. There he meets a drug dealer. Matt buys weed from him and begins to come up with a plan to sell drugs to other middle-aged people who are suffering from financial problems.

Matt meets with a middleman Dave who promises to connect him with a drug supplier. Meanwhile, Matt also goes to the lumber store owned by Lisa’s ex-boyfriend in an attempt to expose her infidelities. Soon after that, Matt, Dave, and Jaime drive out of town to meet Matt’s new drug supplier, Monte.



Monte offers to let Matt buy his business, but Matt refuses. However, he is enticed by thoughts of how much money he could make as a drug supplier. Back in the city, Matt meets with an old friend and tells him about his plan to sell drugs. However, he is approached by two police officers who, finding the weed he is carrying, threaten to arrest him if he doesn’t become a police informant.

Matt agrees to their proposal and receives a watch that doubles as a recorder. The stress of the situation causes him to suffer a complete nervous breakdown, but after he recovers somewhat, Matt comes up with a plan to sell drugs to his enemies, entrapping them and ensuring their arrest.

He first attempts to sell weed to Chuck, his wife’s ex-boyfriend. Chuck refuses, as do Matt’s former editor at the paper who laid him off and the real estate agent who sold him an overpriced house. Without a single one of his plans coming to fruition, and under pressure from the police, Matt realizes that he cannot maintain the façade any longer. He decides to warn his business partners that he is working with the police, giving them a chance to get away before he turns himself in.



When Dave hears the news, it leads to a heated confrontation that threatens to turn violent. Matt and Monte escape, both deciding to turn themselves into the police. They learn that Jaime has been a police informant all along, which was how the police knew that Matt was carrying weed the first time they approached him.

Matt is arrested and sentenced to probation. He is forced to tell Lisa everything, including the truth about their financial situation. They declare bankruptcy and lose their house, deciding to separate in the process. Lisa confesses her infidelity, and she and Matt decide to work on rebuilding their trust in each other. Matt moves into an apartment with his sons and gets a job writing for an online paper. He realizes that his obsession with money and status led to his trouble in the first place.
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