Loser Lit

I was talking with my colleague, David Wright, the other day about a trend I have been noticing in some books I’ve read recently. I told him about how I was planning on writing a blog post about these books that feature men who laugh in the face of tragedy. And David said, “You mean Loser Lit?”

Losers in literature is nothing new. One need only open John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces to prove my point. But the loser of today is something a little different. He’s the endearingly pathetic schlub we love to laugh at, whose cringeworthy choices help us forget our own. He’s the everyloser that is cropping up in Judd Apatow hits, he’s one of the pals who made the film “The Hangover” a box-office blowout.

One such example is the narrator of Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets. Matt Prior left his then secure job at a newspaper to start his own financial poetry website, poetfolio.com, which, not surprisingly, tanks. Matt lays out his whole financial nightmare, which resounds achingly close to the bone during this recession slump–he’s mortgaged up to his eyeballs and is just about to get repossessed, sending his two ungrateful sons to private school so as to avoid the Alcatraz elementary nearby, and he fears his wife may be reconnecting with an old flame. What does he decide to do to help him get out of his financial straits? Sell pot. That’s right, become an amateur drug dealer.

Walter’s novel is loser lit at its finest–smart, funny, poignant and full of heart-wrenchingly funny poetry. Plus, there is a running joke throughout in which Matt calls 9/11 “7/11” instead. Brilliant.

My other “loser lit” reads include: Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You.

Anyone else noticed this trend? Any titles to add?

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Loser Lit"

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  1. dhelen@sbcglobal.net' Dani Carol says:

    I laughed at your reference to the Alcatrez elementary school – so sadly precise. While I don’t have any current titles for you, I’ve always considered Kurt Vonnegut’s narrators to be classic ‘beautiful loser’ types; Breakfast of Champions, Sirens of Titans, of course Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse Five. While they may be more along the existential profile than current characters, the idea is similiar; a hapless everyman/woman to love.

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