This is a story about Matthew Prior and what happens to him and his family after he gets into debt and is on the road to losing his wife and house. First, Matt Prior starts losing his mind when he begins to contemplate the loss of his house. He is on the process to foreclosure after he quit his job as a business reporter for a newspaper, to form his own start-up -- which is a website that purportedly would analyze economic and business trends, putting them into short verse. The website was going to be called: poetfolio.com. It hadn't taken long for this start-up to fizzle, and after he'd remortgaged his house, fixing it up, and throwing wealth into his family's first home, Matt finds himself on the brink of mental and physical collapse.
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He starts going out on "milk" runs in the middle of the night, after his two elementary-aged kids -- Teddy and Franklin -- are asleep, and his dementia-laded father is well-absorbed in his TV reruns. Meanwhile, his wife, Lisa, is unresponsive and distant. In his paranoia, Matt correctly assumes that his wife is having an affair with the dude from the Lumberyard ... a man with brawn and grit. Instead of getting tough, Matt cowers into his poetic sensitivities that everything is crashing down around him.
Of course, it's not his fault that the economy tanked in 2008 and the Stock Market and worldwide liquidity started spiraling out of control. Nobody had seen it coming. Not even the poet with limitless expectations.
Thus the novel begins with all this harrying the main character's consciousness. He finds himself in a 7-11, desperately buying food items. The cost of milk is expensive, he repeats ... and this one standout fact ends up connecting him with two gnarly-looking hoodlums hanging out front of the 7-11 parking lot. Somehow Matt gets involved with them, getting into their car, smoking weed with them. Then he goes off to a party with his new found friends, where he stays up until dawn, getting stoned, doing his best to not think about foreclosures and the high cost of milk.
Matt then repeats the same thing, the next night ... after lying to his wife and she lying to him, answering the same questions to his old man, and sending the kids off to school. He meets up again, with Skeet and Jamie. They call Matt "Slippers." Because at the party the night before, he'd been wearing his bedroom slippers. This time, Matt resorts to the idea of buying weed from a guy-who-knows-a-guy. In this case, Skeet and Jamie lead Matt to Dave.
Dave is a failed lawyer, who won't allow Matt the future possibilities of incriminating him in the "deal." He has Matt sign contracts for the intended purchase, of which Dave wants no knowledge where, why, how and what for. Suddenly Matt has the ball rolling on his $9,000 just-cashed-in-my-401(k) to engage in this drug deal for three pounds of marijuana. And he had just started smoking again....
Matt confides in his friend Ike at a restaurant they frequent. Ike is a journalist at the paper Matt had twice been employed by. Although Ike fears his imminent firing from the dying newspaper, he is not convinced that selling weed is so much better than having anxiety for keeping a job. Matt believes, however, that he hardly has any choice.
All the while, Matt has been stalking his wife's emotional transiency, as she is confidentially having an affair with an ex-boyfriend. Via her digital social media account, Matt discovers their increasingly intimate conversations on his wife's computer. Induced by his avoiding of his fate, Matt comes up with another bright idea: visit his wife's secret lover at his place of employment. There, Matt eventually purchases $1,000 worth of lumber for a treeless tree-fort for his two children -- the one that he had never built. It becomes clear, then, to the reader that Matt is very loose with his wallet, for all the wrong reasons.
The story progresses, as Matt meets and speaks with creditors, his former boss, and a financial consultant whose job it is to help pull Matt out of his own financial tornado. Finally, for a little relief, Matt gets in touch with his debtors -- who down the line have engulfed the company and the bank which had "owned" Matt's debt. The foreclosure on his house might be saved; he bought just a little bit of extra time to earn the 33K to save his house.
The weed idea works right away. Matt sells a few ounces, and earns a tidy little profit. He is hooked. And he's even smoking it, too.
But it all comes to a hilt, after meeting with Dave and the "dealer", Monte. Monte is a pawn, whom Dave has used to keep himself at arm's length from the secret grow house they have going. Dave and Monte show Matt the grow room, which is hidden away behind a wall and connected to other houses, via an underground tunnel, all in an unlikely area. Since Matt had been so willing to part with his $9,000, Dave and Monte believed that they had found a potential buyer for their grow operation. Little do they know, they have just given themselves away to a mentally unstable half-man, who is broke, in debt, on the verge of losing his house, his wife, his kids.... Matt's only current "employment" is the drug dealing. Which, to him, is only an accident.
The accident leads Matt to spill the buds. He visits Ike again at their local hotspot, where all the pretty waitresses refuse to give old men such as them the time of day. As Matt informs his buddy of just how far down the rabbit hole he has gotten himself, two detectives walk up to their table. They had overheard a few things which had piqued their interest. Matt clings tightly to keeping hidden under the table his bag which has no less than three ounces of pot in it. (The dealers had decided that they would give Matt the rest of his booty later that night.) The cops know the names; they have been working on that particular case, of catching "Dave" and Monte, for years.
Matt fesses up, is taken to the police station, questioned and nearly gets locked up. One detective is a "good" guy, and the other, quite the opposite. Lt. Reese badgers Matt as a response to his remorse for dealing drugs. Lt. Reese don't feel bad for nobody. He leaves the room, and the "good" cop then gets sweet with Matt, letting him know that if he should cooperate a little with the case, he could walk out of what he has gotten himself into, without it becoming too big of a deal, in matters of being arrested and imprisoned. Matt agrees to wear a phony watch to the drug deal. What he thinks is a recording device is actually a prop -- the cops wanted to draw out the case, just long enough in order to get a sorely needed budget passed.
Since Matt has hardly slept for days, what with all the worrying and his fear of losing everything, he continues on his life almost like a zombie. He feels that he is lying to his friends, lying to his "customers," lying to himself and his family. He even tries to incriminate his old boss at the newspaper, whom Matt ends up feeling sorry for, anyway.
Then Matt again lets it known to a girl at a party, a girl he kisses out on the balcony (as all romantic poets do), that her friends Jamie and Skeet are involved with a dangerous criminal: Dave. Dave is a cover. The cops had told Matt that "Dave" had a criminal history.
When Matt gets to the grow house, Dave is hot in the collar. He'd been tipped off by the Lady, and he wanted right away some answers from Matt, as to what the cops knew and what Matt had revealed. "Dave" also pleads his cause, seemingly more human that what the cops had made him appear. Matt's watch illuminates as he falls into a reverie of sleep mixed with dream mixed with his ongoing financial nightmare.
He comes to, in the grow house, and everybody has scattered. He goes home to find that: A) His wife had indeed been cheating on him. B) That his father, with his dementia, is building a treeless tree-fort on the front lawn with the lumber that had been delivered by Chuck, the man with whom Lisa had been having an affair. C) That Lt. Reese has come to arrest him.
The case had been ruined; by Matt, of course. Monte and Dave would be going to jail, although not for long. Jamie is revealed to have been another informant. And Matt ends up spending only two nights in jail, due to his cooperation with law enforcement. The cops don't get their budget passed. Instead they receive new, remedial duties of the Law. Matt files for bankruptcy, loses the house, moves into a dingy apartment, as Lisa moves in with her friend, Dani. She claims to need time.
Meanwhile, Matt had previously been offered a new position at a new digital paper that a former colleague with plenty of dough had started. He takes that job, working in a small office. Also he takes the bus to work every day, after walking the kids to school. Suddenly he realizes the life that had never envisioned: one with humility and no room for luxury or largesse.
Lisa comes to see the kids, and eventually she stays once a week for dinner. Naturally, she begins to lose her feelings for Chuck, and she, too, rationalizes her mistakes. She had had a terrible addiction to buying useless things on ebay, which had piled up in their garage. All of that had been sold in a yard sale, before they'd been evicted. Lisa still remains, at the end of the book, in the grips of wondering about what will happen to their house. She can't believe that it will be sold less than what it's actually worth. To her, it was worth a lot more.
The two slowly get used to becoming man and wife, in Matt's cheap and more affordable apartment, far away from their old lives.