Jess Walter’s new novel, “The Financial Lives of the Poets,” hits bookstores Tuesday and is already getting plenty of excellent critical attention. British novelist Nick Hornby chose it for his “Recommended Reading” list in People magazine this week, calling it “a laugh-out-loud and desperately painful account of an economy and a marriage in meltdown.” Walter’s novel “The Zero” was a finalist for the National Book Award. “Citizen Vince” won an Edgar Award for best novel. He’s an East Valley High School graduate and a former reporter for The Spokesman-Review. Here’s an edited version of a conversation last week:
Q.What’s your favorite response from a student assigned to read your work in English class?
A.A woman posted on YouTube. She makes the argument that “The Zero” should be in the “canon” (of great literature). I got … intellectually aroused watching that YouTube. I wanted to die immediately and be a dead white man. It’s really flattering.
Q.What did your wife, Anne, think of “The Financial Lives of the Poets”?
A.She loved it. People will read it and think there’s some autobiographical stuff in there – and there are some surface details. But it’s about a guy who is financially risky – I’ve never even had a car loan. His wife is a tremendous flirt – and I’m actually the tremendous flirt. So it’s like this bizarro version of us.
She is always pushing me to have endings that feel more satisfactory, and I think this is probably the most satisfying ending for most readers.
Q.What’s the future of the novel as an art form?
A.It doesn’t have the place in the culture (that it once had), but it still has a place. I think there is no deeper narrative art form. You can see a movie and be tremendously moved by it, but you’ve spent two hours there. A novel you invest with your own imagination. The reader brings so much to it. I don’t think it’s in danger of dying.
Q.Actors say that comedy is harder than tragedy. Which is harder for a writer?
A.I don’t know. Jim Lynch one time said I write standup tragedy (laughs). If you generally see the world as a bitter and unwelcoming place, then you probably are a comic writer (laughs).
Q.Timothy Egan moved to Seattle. Sherman Alexie moved to Seattle. Why have you stayed in Spokane?
A.I love Spokane. A lot of things I used to complain about Spokane are no longer true. It feels more cosmopolitan. It’s a great home base for a writer, still. I end up traveling a lot and I just feel like I’m from here.
A.It’s called “The Hotel Adequate View,” and it’s a big sprawling epic, a big romantic epic. It’s Gabriel-Garcia-Marquez-meets- somebody-who’s-a-much- worse-writer. It’s spread over 40 years. It’s my Hollywood novel and my Italy novel and my Northwest novel, all wrapped into one.