IF YOU'RE GOING to read Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, do it quickly—while the financial crisis is still fresh in your mind; while there are still newspapers around to chronicle the death of newspapers; before Facebook is supplanted by the next social networking site (an irony-driven return to Friendster, perhaps?).
Walter's of-the-moment new novel describes a former newspaper man, Matthew Prior, now jobless, whose house faces imminent foreclosure, and whose wife is probably having an affair with an old fling she reconnected with on Facebook. A belated attempt to join the digital age—a website that combines financial advice with poetry, called "poetfolio.com"—was an unsurprising failure that sopped up the last of the Priors' savings, and Matthew needs a radical solution to his financial and romantic woes. Inspired by group of hapless pot dealers, he determines that selling weed to his middle-aged friends is just the ticket to getting his life back on track.
Walter's tone is light—chapter titles include "Dave the Drug Dealer Wants to Look up My Ass"—and the prose is broken up with chunks of deliberately goofy verse. The poetry device is far less winning than Walter intends it to be, but Poets is a brisk read nonetheless—Walter subverts his readers' expectations just often enough that even the ripped-from-the-headlines plot points feel fresh.