When, in 2017, you pick up a novel that’s basically about middle-aged white male melancholy, you have certain expectations. Namely: Eye-rolling. Fortunately, Matthew Klam’s debut novel, Who Is Rich?, stops short of veering into why am I reading this? territory and is instead bitingly funny and surprisingly relatable. (Even if you’re not a white dude.)
Here’s the premise: Rich Fischer is a 40-something cartoonist watching the art-world clout he once had fade away. Now he works as a magazine illustrator, which he finds unfulfilling and sell-out-ish. (Not that he’s making a ton of money, FWIW.) And then there’s his loveless marriage and all-but-nonexistent sex life.
Each summer, though, he gets a brief respite by teaching a cartooning workshop at a weeklong arts conference in New England, where he takes up with the wife of a successful financier and attends insufferable cocktail parties with fair-to-middling playwrights and narcissistic academics.
As Rich recounts the events of the conference (including his ensuing guilt over not only cheating on his wife but buying his mistress a bracelet that basically drains his family’s savings), Klam’s tone shifts from morose to sharply funny to oddly poignant.
Think John Irving with a side of Maria Semple.