WHO IS RICH?: A NOVEL, BY MATTHEW KLAM
PUBLICATION: RANDOM HOUSE; JULY 4, 2017
About the book:
Every summer, a once-sort-of-famous 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 prize-winning 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 this year 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 future 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 lust, 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.
I just finished reading Who is Rich? by Matthew Klam, and overall I really enjoyed this novel. It was not a normal, everyday read, but a complex glimpse into the life of a married, middle-aged Cartoonist named Rich. Rich and his wife Robin do not have a very warm and fuzzy marriage, they struggle financially, have two small children, and basically tolerate one another day to day. However, it’s time for his once a year art conference where he holds cartooning workshops in a small beach town. This also means that he will see Amy, a super rich, unhappy wife and mother whom he has been intimate with before, as well as, carrying on communication with over the past year.
This novel is told entirely from Rich’s point of view which I liked, but sometimes his thoughts or feelings wandered a bit too far away for me. Rich is obviously a very devoted father but is cynical about life in general. He struggles over his career not becoming what he had hoped, he feels slighted and beaten down by Robin (rightfully so), and appears completely confused about his ever-changing feelings, or lack thereof, for Amy. I love the honest exploration into Rich’s life and feelings about who he is, but there were also times it bordered on a pity-party. Money was a huge player in this novel, not only because he struggled with making and responsibly spending money, but also Amy’s enormous wealth as compared to his own. On one hand he wanted her to rescue him financially, but on the other hand, he refused any financial help and felt certain they could never really co-exist as a couple because of her wealth.
I was torn throughout the entire novel as to whether Rich and Amy had any genuine feelings for one another, but I’m inclined towards it just being an escape and a moment to connect with someone. Sex seemed to make them both happy then sad then happy then sad again. It was almost as if they each gave too much power to sexual acts, expecting miracles from it, but instead felt dirty and disappointed in themselves afterwards. My hopes are that by the end of the novel, Rich came to realize his own enormous because of his two children, but I’m not sure because there was still the joy-sucking wife of his that was consistently uncaring and bitter. Rich also seemed to struggle with other social relationships, frequently replacing conversation with sarcasm and rhetorical questions, but this also prevented him from really looking at himself and the choices that he has made.
Matthew Klam’s writing was beautiful, detailed, and honest. He truly provided a window into Rich’s soul and revealed so much about this man who so often doubted himself and others. I can’t say it left me feeling happy with my spirits lifted, but I appreciated the overall themes of his internal and external struggles. Rich is not a character that I will soon forget and I am rooting for him to enjoy a happier life!
*Thanks to First to Read and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.