Poets have to dream, and dreaming in America is no cinch.
– Saul Bellow*
When I read this book I laughed out loud. At night, a time when I’m usually too tired to even read. And when you read a book that makes you laugh out loud, squirm with embarrassment, read the poetry out loud to hear its lyricism, grunt with frustration over the main character’s stupid choices, chuckle with shocking recognition over things that hit too close to home, and then finally, lay it down gently with a heart that is so full of hurt and yet oddly, simultaneously hopeful… well, then you have to contact the author and ask permission to adapt it for Book-It.
This novel is packed with American life as it flies by. Jess Walter wanted to write a book that would “get at America.” So it’s about the economic crisis, the loss of jobs, the housing collapse… well, as Walter explains, it’s about “our consumer culture that lies in the overpriced, snack-filled aisles of a convenience store… and [the fact that] my old profession, journalism, was dying and it broke my heart… And pot. And marriage. And children. And parents. And unraveling. And life, as it often feels, a few degrees too precarious, too sweet, just as it felt in that summer, fall and winter of 2008.”
2008. Who knew it was a period piece? Ben Cameron spoke about the year 2008 at the recent ArtsFund luncheon in May referencing the fact that “in 2008 Obama was neck-and-neck with McCain, there was no iPhone, MySpace was bigger than Facebook, the biggest selling app was Koi Pond.” Fast forward. We have come so far. Or have we?
In adapting the novel, I did my best to preserve the multi-layered issues that swirl around Matt Prior. The poet-boy-trying-to-be-a-responsible-businessman—because in America, businessmen make money, and making a LOT of money means you are a better provider, a better husband, a better father, a better son. But at what cost, do men and women chase the desire of owning success? Balancing what we think we can accomplish versus not wanting to work ourselves to death, is like a DVD that is forever out of sync. You get stuck, you press fast forward, but then you pass where you wanted to be, so you have to rewind. How often do we ask ourselves, “how did I get here?” And, when everything hangs in a balance, teetering on the verge of going downhill, how quickly do we remember what really matters, and that the only thing we really need is… (fill in the blank thoughtfully, simply, accordingly) and that… is enough. Whatever “that” is is okay.
—Myra Platt, Adapter and Director of The Financial Lives of the Poets
*(the epigraph in Walter’s novel)