by Matthew Klam
Published by Random House
3 / 5
Several layers comprise the titular question here.
The most obvious is our hero, Rich Fischer, a cartoonist on the verge of becoming a has-been. His novel, with all of its accolades and sales figures, has gone out of print, and the magazine at which he works might go out of business. Rich is both a devoted husband and father and a philanderer (who happens to be devoted to his girlfriend). He’s an engaging professor at an annual summer conference and utterly ambivalent about the gig. He knows better, yet he makes some truly ridiculous decisions.
There is a social class layer, too. Matthew Klam describes his wealthy characters and enclaves with precision. Rich seems to be surrounded by people with money, whereas he has nothing. Less than nothing, actually, because Rich owes a lot of people a lot of money. Rich is decidedly not rich, at least not financially speaking.
Rich’s girlfriend Amy adds another layer. You have a far stronger sense of what her house looks like than Rich’s. She’s married to a man who makes 120 million a year. That’s right. He makes ten million a MONTH. He’s also bald and fat, and he treats her deplorably. This seems to be an intentional symbol on Klam’s part. Amy tries to combat her flagrant wealth by performing Good Works, but those seem more self-serving than anything else.
You could even argue that Rich’s love life reflects the title. He has both a wife and a lover, albeit a lover he only seems to see on a yearly basis at the writing conference. Believing his marriage to be stale (his wife seems to have a tad of hypochondria), he justifies his affair by pointing out the poverty of his sex (and love) life. When he’s with Amy, he gets to have the sex he wants.
The irony is that you finish the book fundamentally unable to answer its question. Who is Rich? I still have no idea. He tries to do the right thing, but he doesn’t really want to. He wants to do what he wants. When his conscience kicks in, he’s almost bitter about it. I wasn’t sure what to think of Rich at the end of the book. He doesn’t seem as if he’s broken any cycles, let’s just say.
Klam uses humor and pathos to tell his story, which at times feels like a satire and at others more like a socioeconomic screed. This isn’t so much a fun book to read as one you will enjoy, largely due to its layers.
A provocative and hilarious satire of love, sex, money, and politics in our new gilded age—the long-awaited first novel from the the acclaimed author of Sam the Cat
Every summer, a once-sort-of-famous middle-aged cartoonist named Rich Fischer leaves his wife and two kids behind to teach a class at a weeklong arts conference in a charming New England beachside town. It’s a place where, every year, students—nature poets and driftwood sculptors, widowed seniors, teenagers away from home for the first time—show up to study with an esteemed faculty made up of prizewinning playwrights, actors, and historians; drunkards and perverts; members of the cultural elite; unknown nobodies, midlist somebodies, and legitimate stars—a place where drum circles happen on the beach at midnight, clothing optional. One of the attendees is a forty-one-year-old painting student named Amy O’Donnell. Amy is a mother of three, unhappily married to a brutish Wall Street titan who runs a multibillion-dollar investment fund and commutes to work via helicopter. Rich and Amy met at the conference a year ago, shared a moment of passion, then spent the winter exchanging inappropriate texts and emails and counting the days until they could see each other again. Now they’re back.
Once more, Rich finds himself, in this seaside paradise, worrying about his family’s nights without him and trying not to think about his book, now out of print, or his existence as an illustrator at a glossy magazine about to go under, or his back taxes, or the shameless shenanigans of his colleagues at this summer make-out festival, or his own very real desire for love and human contact. He can’t decide whether Amy is going to rescue or destroy him.
Who Is Rich? is a warped and exhilarating tale of love and adultery, a study in midlife alienation, erotic pleasure, envy, and bitterness in the new gilded age that goes far beyond humor and satire to address deeper questions: of family, monogamy, the intoxicating beauty of children, and the challenging interdependence of two soulful, sensitive creatures in a confusing domestic alliance.
About the Author:
Matthew Klam was named one of the twenty best fiction writers in America under 40 by The New Yorker. He’s a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Robert Bingham/PEN Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts. His first book, Sam The Cat and Other Stories, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year in the category of first fiction, was selected as a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, Esquire Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Kansas City Star, and by the Borders for their New Voices series. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, GQ Magazine, andThe New York Times Magazine. He is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and Hollins College, and has taught creative writing in many places including Johns Hopkins University, St. Albans School, American University, and Stockholm University in Sweden.
Review copy provided from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.