Every year, Rich Fischer leaves his family behind to teach a class on cartooning at an annual week-long summer arts conference. Amy O’Donnell is a student in narrative painting, the mother of three, married to a brutish Wall Street titan who runs a multi-billion dollar private equity fund. Rich and Amy met at the conference a year ago, shared a moment of passion, bonding over the shock at how their lives had turned out, then spent the winter exchanging hot texts and emails. Now they’re back.
On the first day of the conference, at the annual softball game, Amy trips on second base and breaks her wrist, and is taken off the field by paramedics. Beside himself with guilt and longing, torn and confused about how to comfort her, Rich wanders into a jewelry store and accidentally buys a bracelet, wiping out his family’s checking account, which is also their savings account, and was supposed to pay for his daughter’s preschool in the fall. He then accompanies Amy through a near-death country-doctoring to complete the most arduous seduction in history. At this point, Rich comes to realize that all anyone needs for wild sex is two people who know each other just well enough to feel safe but don’t share a kitchen. In the delightfully wicked events that follow, these people entirely unravel. This is an unforgettable tale of love and adultery, set against the landscape of a New England fishing village, with pornographic sunsets and The Sea Breeze Motel. Because of its location, the conference has an easy time attracting poets, skitterish teenagers in search of illicit pleasures, old guys, driftwood sculptors, printmakers, actors, and playwrights. On the faculty are Nobel Prize-winning storytellers, talented performers, biographers, addicts, drunkards and perverts, one hit has-beens, mid-list somebodies, and legitimate stars. There is a kind of heated, inordinate bonding that happens among grown-ups, forced out of their decorous privacy, into visceral closeness, that has the feeling of an open air loony bin.
Who Is Rich? is a study in midlife alienation, erotic pleasure, envy, and bitterness in the new gilded age. But the novel also addresses deeper questions of family, monogamy and the intoxicating beauty of children within a confusing domestic alliance.
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, and The 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.
If people were happy with their lives, if they weren't having to deal with crises of conscience, relationships, and faith, what would that mean for the state of fiction? Much in the way that evil characters are more fun to read (and write) about, unhappy characters definitely provide a richer mine from which to build a novel.
Rich Fischer, the protagonist of Matthew Klam's Who is Rich?, is definitely unhappy. At one point he was a cartoonist of some renown, but he now works as an illustrator at a magazine which covers politics and culture.
"Illustration is to cartooning as prison sodomy is to pansexual orgy. Not the same thing at all."
The only thing really left from those better days is that every summer he travels to New England to teach a four-day cartooning workshop at a week-long arts conference. It's not the most fulfilling opportunity, but it does get him away from his family and from the constant problems weighing on his mind and his psyche.
"I wasn't a teacher. I didn't belong here. I'd ditched my family and driven nine hours up the East Coast in Friday summer highway traffic so I could show off in front of strangers, most of whom had no talent, some of whom weren't even nice, while I got paid almost nothing."
Rich and his wife Robin are unhappily married and on the verge of utterly resenting each other full time. Their two young children have their own dysfunctions, and how the couple chooses to handle (and/or ignore) these issues adds more strain to their exasperating relationship. Money is always tight, their sex life is almost non-existent, and both are often bitter, about their relationship and their lives.
"Was it a good life? Was I more joyful, sensitive, and compassionate in my deeply entangled commitment to them? Was there anything better than seeing the world through the eyes of my nutty kids? Was my obligation to Robin the most sincere form of love?...Was this as close to love as I was ever going to get? The closer I got, the more I wanted to destroy the things I loved. Something rose up in me, threatening me. I had to deflect it somehow."
There is one bright light drawing him back to the workshop this year—Amy. Amy is a painting student whom Rich met at last year's workshop, and they shared a flirtation, a little bit more than that, and then spent the winter alternately texting and longing to see each other, and punishing themselves for wanting this. She lives in a wholly different world than Rich—Amy is married to an extremely wealthy, reasonably loathsome Wall Street magnate who is barely home, and rarely pays attention to her and their children when he is. And as much as Amy wants more, wants something different, she isn't sure if she deserves that, and if so, if Rich is that something different.
This is an interesting meditation on monogamy, marriage, children, middle-age, financial success, and whether abandoning your dreams for something more stable makes you a sell-out or a failure. It's also an exploration of what kind of happiness we should expect from life—should you take what you're given or should you hope for more?
Klam is an excellent writer. I read his story collection, Sam the Cat: And Other Stories, about 17 years ago, and he's been one of those writers I've been waiting for years to write another book. This definitely didn't disappoint, although it's a bit more of a downer than I expected. Given the subject matter, it's not too surprising, but I felt the book flowed a lot more slowly because of its morose tone. There are moments of lightheartedness, even humor, but the dilemma that Rich and Amy find themselves in, and Rich's own struggles tend to take more precedence, at least early on.
Who is Rich? definitely made me think, and helped me keep the challenges of my own life in perspective. And isn't that why we read sometimes, to make us feel better about our lives than those the characters are living?
NetGalley and Random House provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!
Who is Rich? Well, no one I really want to spend any time with. He's unhappy, self absorbed, whiny and boring. He can't accept that his 15 minutes of fame is over and done. The beginning of this book reads like one long moan. I wanted to put it down and never pick it up again. I persevered, because hope springs eternal and I kept wanting to see if it would ever improve.
Rich is back teaching cartoon drawing at a summer conference. Five days on Cape Cod while his wife stays at home with their three small children. The prior year he had an emotional affair with a student that continued over the winter and she's back again. She's unhappy and rich. He's an ass, not to mention stupid. And it's not like any of the other characters are any more sympathetic.
I enjoyed the writing. The descriptions are well done. But it couldn't make up for my dislike of the main character and the drudgery of his narrative.
This was not to my liking, but I appreciate netgalley and Random House providing me with an advance copy of this book.
Who is Rich? Richard Fischer is a 42-year-old married man with two young kids, living in Takoma Park, MD, and working as an editorial cartoonist at a political magazine. Six years ago, he had an autobiographical novel of his life in cartoons published that brought him some fame and brief glory, filled with 'themes of twenty-something agitation and incipient adult ennui.'
He'd once been a self-proclaimed 'wild man' who thought of himself as adventurous, amorous and brave. And then 'he'd embarked on conformity, routine, homeownership, marriage, parenthood' and found he couldn't bring himself to write about his current married life of diapers and exhaustion and quarrels, and so is now doing 'commercial whore work' as a cartoonist.
For the last five years, Rich has been invited to teach at the Matticook College Summer Arts Conference on one of Massachusetts' islands (Martha's Vineyard?). A time of freedom from family life, a time for brief casual flings. But last year he met a student named Amy, 41, married to an extremely wealthy man (think dark money), mother of three, and they'd shared one brief interlude of lust on the last day of the conference but kept in touch through emails and sexts during the year. Amy is a shining light in his dull workaday world, 'someone new to restore some wonder to the reason we exist,' who helps him stop feeling horrible and dead inside.
So when they meet again at this year's conference, Rich has high hopes. Is it love? Would they be willing to leave their respective spouses and families for a new life together? "We both believed there was a rich erotic life out there that we'd been denied."
But things go wrong right from the start: Amy falls during the annual softball game and breaks her wrist. Should she cut things short and go home to her kids? Rich spends a great deal of money he really shouldn't. And then he learns the magazine he works for may be folding. Now guilt really kicks in--what will his wife say when she finds all this out? Would Amy we willing to rescue him with a loan or would that just make him feel like a gigolo, being paid for being her lover?
My rating falls somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. I enjoyed Matthew Klam's complex writing style, his massively descriptive sentences. But Rich is a very complicated, unlikeable protagonist: he's loud, neurotic, and though he's not totally amoral, he is certainly losing his moral compass and is a man in the midst of a full-blown midlife crisis. Some people have to be on the verge of losing what they have before they can appreciate it.
Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this new book.
Rich is our eponymous narrator and is a typical narcissist - charming, manipulative, impulsive and self centred. Luckily for the reader, he is also given to witty introspection, able to recognise and admit to his failings, which makes him capable of redemption - the possibility of which is what propels the narrative. The novel combines two conventional staples of modern fiction – a midlife crisis with the usual accompanying adulterous relationship, and the use of a literary alter ego to extract useable material from real-life experiences, friends and family:
'There's no such thing as a reliable narrator. There's more reliable and less reliable, but any light that passes through that lens is shaped, bent, divided. You willingly create distortions and those distortions are misleading, designed to stir up, revise, reverse, undo, shift, shape, sing. A story is an interrogation, an act of aggression, a flirtation. It's slippery, squirrelly, and rascally.'
The title is also a philosophical one, which asks the question about what is most valuable in life.
If you don’t like reading about flawed human beings, then this is not for you – but you will miss out on a lot of humour and insight into writing fiction - not to mention a great deal of explicit sex (whoops, I mentioned it).
In 2000, Matthew Klam, then one of the New Yorker’s “Best Fiction Writers Under 40,” published a funny collection called “Sam the Cat.” The stories won prizes and got everybody excited for Klam’s next book. Which never came.
“Who Is Rich?” is about a writer who once enjoyed “precocious success” and then sunk into obscurity. “I’d had an appointment with destiny,” the narrator says. “I’d barely started, then I blinked and it was over.”
We could speculate about how much this falls under the category of Write What You Know, but here’s what I do know: This is an irresistible comic novel that pumps blood back into the anemic tales of middle-aged white guys. Klam may be working in a well-established tradition, but he’s sexier than Richard Russo and more fun than John Updike, whose Protestant angst was always trying to transubstantiate some man’s horniness into a spiritual crisis. . . .
Who Is Rich? Rich is a committed father of two kids under the age of five. Rich is a somewhat less committed husband to an angry wife. Rich is unhappy. Rich is dejected because his marriage has become a sex-free environment. Rich has money problems. Rich was a once promising cartoonist but is now a struggling illustrator. Rich is stuck. Rich has an affair with a woman who doesn't have money problems but husband problems. Rich is spending a week away from his family at an annual summer school/conference where he meets up with Amy, the aforementioned woman. Rich likes extensive descriptions of people and his surroundings and reading his rambling introspection for 350 pages was the dullest thing I've done in a while. Couldn't wait to get to the end. I tend to enjoy these mid-life-crisis 'male-lit' type of books because it's an interesting change from the more frequent female POVs, but this one wasn't right for me. There were some fleeting moments of wit and admittedly, bits of the writing were good. I didn't have an issue with the adultery theme. If anything that was the most interesting aspect of this book. But overall, there was too much inconsequential rambling. All those background characters? There were moments when I could relate to Rich. Married life with two under fives and financial worries can be a strain. Been there, done that. But ultimately, there wasn't enough there to make me care. When I finally got to the end, I was mainly wondering what the actual point of it all was? I received an ARC via NetGalley. Thank you, and sorry.
I was surprised how much I liked it. It takes a good,writer to write about bad sex so well. I laughed a lot, but I felt empathy for the young artist who peaked too early. And no one should be allowed to be snarky and judgemental about the hero unless he is willing to allow us to browse through his iphone. Who among us hasn't sent an inappropriate text message? Part of the pleasure of this book is the startling shocks of self-recognition.
In a book I reviewed earlier this week, I pointed out the need for a male version of chicklit, and here is another example. Another reviewer of this book in particular did suggest a cruder name, but I think I'll just call it guylit.
Rich is a cartoonist, 42 years old, returning to an annual four-day conference that draws artists in all fields to an idyllic Atlantic seaside town (I like to believe it is in Rhode Island). Last year he had a "thang" with Amy, a stunning lecturer that evolved into a text flurry and several unsatisfactory meetings. It doesn't hurt that thanks to her financier husband Amy is megabomb rich. In fact, there are multiple billionaires present here, and Klam details each scene and experience in such minute detail the reader feels they're present. As for Rich, the only thing rich about him is his name (and possibly his talent). At home in Baltimore is his family, wife Robin and two small children. Robin is probably one of the most well developed women in any guylit book, and her accomplishments and character beg the question, why does Rich look elsewhere?
Rich faces some hard decisions, and while he slips on many occasions, when it comes to the big stuff, he chooses the high road. Interestingly, in other reviews, men are generally more sympathetic and award more stars, while women, not so much. The harshest reviews are those by women. Probably not a surprise - as I said, guylit. Men, if they read chicklit, tend to be harsher in their assessment.
Bravo! Definitely worth the 17-year wait for a novel from Matt Klam. A great wallow in the biggies: infidelity, doubt, artistic emptiness, envy, anxiety, beauty, money, heartbreak. Also, because it's about a guy who got brief notoriety for writing and drawing literary comics, it made me wonder about all those male comic artists I used to read so faithfully back in the late 1990s. Where are they now? I'm too afraid to look.
Speaking of years ago, back when Matt Klam's short-story collection "Sam the Cat" came out in 2000, it got lots of buzz, including this article, by me, in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archiv...
Seventeen years! I'd say it flew by fast, but it really, truly didn't.
(1 1/2). To say this is not my style is an understatement. This is one of those tortured, obsessive, angst driven, woe is me type of narratives that is totally self indulgent. It is well written, so I will be kind and round it up to two stars. An interesting lead character, who manages to make his life as complicated as he possibly can. If you are into introspective narratives this is for you. Stories like this leaves me cold at best.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I didn't enjoy reading this book. I almost didn't finish it.. Several times. After I was done I really wondered why I had bothered. There was not one character I could say was ok. Rich was a creep. A cheater. Selfish. Nuts. Amy was no better. Robin was also self absorbed and they all deserved the crappy life they all got. There were some moments of hilarity, humor....but the rest of it seemed like a free flow nervous breakdown ending with a trip to the mental ward. And then I needed a shower. This book just wasn't for me.
I think that I would have loved this book if I were in its target audience: white, male, early middle age, an artist of some kind forced to work a day job that takes all his creative energy. Caught in a marriage that also drains his energy; perpetually angry at or bored with his wife while adoring his children despite their interference with his true calling, art.
The writing is wonderful and often amusing (again, probably more so if I'd had more in common with the narrator). I had no trouble finishing the book. The only trouble I had was caring about the narrator or his problems. Maybe I was meant to despise him. So then the book was successful except that I have a hard time caring about a book that is set in a world I dislike.
Not that I'm completely out of the target audience. A white middle class woman with dreams of being a writer. So maybe in some ways the story hit too close to home. Having everything you want but feeling like you've somehow lost out on the prize. This is something for me to think about.
It's not that I can't like books with unlikable characters (I thought The Dinner by Herman Koch was amazing and I hated every character in the book including the writer and his perverse viewpoint). And Rich is not so unlikable as all that. Merely nebishy and a little whiny. But I wanted to shake him. I found him neither funny nor sad. Mostly annoying.
So I feel like I missed something. This book received raves and there's a lot that's good about it. The writing; the felt truth of the characters; the well-drawn scenes that I could practically see. So I wouldn't suggest anyone not read it because maybe the world would be interesting and not uncomfortable for them.
And, on the plus side, the book has made me reflect on my own life, how it differs, where it may be similar. And the writing couldn't be better. I just wish I could have cared more about Rich or what happened to him. Or anyone else in the story.
I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review.
It is a falsehood to have Who Is Rich? posted on my READ shelf; it belongs on my Did Not Finish shelf. I tried really hard and read about 20% of this first person narrator novel. The problem was that I didn't enjoy any of it.
There is a danger with first person narrators - they can be oblivious to their frailties and are somewhat self-centered. In this novel, graphic novelist Rich Fischer is a returning teacher at a summer arts conference. Wife and children, along with the day-to-day realities of family, are left at home while Rich does the conference. Rich questions the future of his marriage while reminiscing about a flirtatious encounter with a past participant at the summer arts conference. His one semi hit graphic novel propelled him toward other opportunities but he has been unable to capitalize on these. Rich, personally and professionally, appears caught in a perpetual state of ennui.
Characters and plot line were not interesting enough to get me to continue on.
I struggled with this book. My first response to Who is Rich? Rich is an asshole. I wanted to give up on this book so many times because the main character is so completely unlikable. I almost didn't make it past the first 20 pages because he came off as a sexist, selfish asshole who seriously needs to get over himself. But I trudged on and Rich's rants get a little more soft-edged, more introspective, more self-critical. Rich is a middle-aged cartoonist, married with two young children. He's unhappy. Well, more, he's stuck. And he goes to his annual writer's workshop/conference where he teaches to get away from his family.
He seems to be a work at home dad, and his wife, who works in television, is usually the one away on business while he deals with the kids. And this is his chance to get away and have some me time. He finds himself at a crossroads in his life, career changing/dwindling, marriage stagnating, stuck in a rut. So he does the guy thing and cheats on his wife.
I wanted, I tried, to enjoy reading this, but I just couldn't. It's a book about a middle-aged white guy and he's not a man's man, and he's not suffering from testosterone poisoning, and he thinks, and he questions himself, which are all good things. And there are times when this book is beautiful, and spare, yet abundant. Ultimately, though, I struggled through it and I'm struggling to find a positive outcome of having read it.
I received a digital copy of this through Penguin's First to Read program.
A very funny book about marital failings, artistic desolation, the inability to meet expectations and adult male alienation. Not totally my thing but Klam had me captured and enjoying Rich on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This midlife crisis novel is more than it might initally seem and is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
Self-indulgent asshole: I’m completely fine with that for a main character. His anxieties and feelings on parenting are, frankly, spot on at times. That, and the level of basically choosing to ignore what’s going on in the world as being above it, and not having the time in your artistry to concern yourself with that, smacks so much of privilege I’m familiar with in my daily life that it’s uncanny. Many other observations follow this level of wit, but…
It’s just that I enjoyed Summerlong & The Arrangement as a similar, I don’t know, glimpse of middle-age, middle-class parenting and marriage. Maybe it’s the stream-of-consciousness, but I don’t know. I’ve enjoyed many books with this (even with unlikable characters)…
But Rich is too much. I’m setting this aside. It’s not going to formally be a DNF, because it’s kind of easy to read. It’s just so off-putting.
8/15 I give it 2 stars for the writing and observation....but now this DNF is official.
I couldn't even get past page 50. I usually don't rate books unless I've read about 50%, but you'll see why I feel so strongly about this.
Firstly, there were transphobic comments on page five. "Nick, the trans kid, said his father had thrown him out of the house and that he - or she - lived in her car.”. Come on, Matthew Klam, if you really think you can get away with misgendering and transphobic comments in literature these days, you're living in the past. This is capital-F fucked up. I considered stopping there, but I persevered with bated breath.
The humour was subpar, try-hard and quite frankly, the typical middle-aged guy trying desperately to be funny - i.e. “Solito was young enough to be my son, if I’d had a son at fourteen.” (pg.10). Was that supposed to be funny? Why was that an included detail? It's such a daft piece of information that I just sat there, rolled my eyes and thought for a solid minute, why, Matthew Klam, why?.
I only just got into Rich's (unhealthy) relationship with married life, but this gem came out fairly early: "Bad sex was better than nothing, and Beanie [their son] effectively ended the badness. Fuckless weeks..." (pg.20). So not only are we transphobic, we're also sex-obsessed, self-centred and not at all considerate of women or children's needs? This made me sigh and just wish I got my $30 back (how did I waste that much money on such a piece of garbage?)
There was vague racism up until this point, in describing Indian or non-descript 'Asian' characters (which abided by cultural stereotypes, i.e. Asians being nerds), but the real kicker was "Obama as a jug-eared mullah." (pg.35). So, alongside the transphobia and misogyny, we're also racist. Congrats, Matthew Klam, you got the unholy trinity.
That just highlighted how much of an overgrown schoolboy Rich is. He is an unlikeable character - which isn't necessarily bad - but had no redeeming qualities, or, in any stretch of the imagination, interesting. It's a typical example of an egotistical man who got a glimpse of fame and glory, but was always too far from his grasp. He whinges about how good he's got it, and how privileged he is, and it never comes off as a commentary on society. It comes of self-interested, boring and irritating.
So, this is a complete flop, and is definitely not directed at younger audiences. It's for middle-aged men who lament about their unstable position in today's world, and the non-event that was their lives.
I can’t recommend this one and only finished about half of it. Netgalley recommended this book in an email to me and I clicked on the link to see what it was about; however, that automatically placed it on my shelf to be read and reviewed. I appreciate all the books I’ve received from Netgalley but I will definitely be more careful with their automatic email requests as I would not have chosen this one.
The main character is Rich Fischer, a married cartoonist who is teaching a class at an arts conference. The year before he had a brief fling with one of the students, Amy, who is married to a very rich guy but is unhappy. Rich and Amy have been sending provocative emails to each other. Now they’re together again at this conference. The book basically takes a look at Rich’s struggles as an artist, as a husband and as a father.
I really did try to give this book a chance but it just wasn’t for me. It was very drawn out and I couldn’t find anything to grab hold of that would spark the slightest bit of interest. The book is touted as being hilarious but I never laughed, not once. I did think the author has a lot of insight into marriage and parenthood but it wasn’t enough to keep me wanting to read more. Rich is too self-indulgent and whiny and I just couldn’t get through the whole book. Who is Rich? I just didn’t care enough to learn more.
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
We're (society) not used to men whining about their careers and family life. It's okay, they should let off a little steam, with other men, but we don't want to hear you complain about your wife who's home breastfeeding a 2-3 month old baby, while caring for two toddlers under five! A ravaged body, sleep-deprived, milkprocessing operating, school/nursery teacher women, trying to survive day after day! (been there, done that.) I understand Rich, you're having a career slump right now, but uh go spend 2 hours at the library or a coffee shop, and put some effort into it. It's tough, we know, but flirting with a woman at the conference is not helping anyone in the long run. You still have to work, snap out out of it, get some counseling, antidepressants, take a free art class for graphic arts, etc..In a blink of an eye you're kids are going to be teenagers. It's real but tough to read, however the writing is Great.
I typically try to look for the good in a book even when I don't really enjoy it as a whole, but I have to say that I really couldn't think of one thing that I enjoyed about this book. Maybe when I got to the last page and it was over? Is that harsh? Maybe, but Rich just was not an interesting character and I really disliked reading about his shenanigans.
Rich is a failed cartoonist/artist who teaches at a summer camp every year. He has an attitude, he is self-absorbed, and he really didn't entertain me at all. I kept reading really hoping that the novel would pick up, but it never did. I did think the writing and descriptions were nice, but the story as a whole wasn't for me.
I did read several really nice reviews about this novel, so don't let me review scare you off. This just didn't happen to be the book for me, but you could love it. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for providing a copy for review.
If you are from or know of coastal New England you can almost guess the town. Sort of a rambling account of an indecisive guy who loves his wife one minute and is jumping into an affair the next. Too much mental contemplations for my taste as it winds through the action parts. Interesting enough to keep me engaged to the last page but no rush to read it again
A book by the author of SAM THE KAT (under the name Matt Klam). Klam tells a story about a cartoonist named Rich who attends an arts conference in a town a lot like Provincetown, and falls in love with the wife of a Wall Street billionaire. Lacerating and clever and very smart. No one else writes like Klam.
Poor Rich. A cartoonist who's quick look at fame is in the past, who got the girl he was obsessed with, but now 12 years into their marriage that seems less a marriage than a constant war of wills, with two young children, he can't quite figure out what it's all about, he loves and does not love his little family with nearly equal passion, and is eager to get to the arts conference in a beachside town where he has taught cartooning for the last several years. The previous summer, he had an affair with Amy, a billionaire's wife, and all year they've been texting and emailing one another. Rich knows his life has gone off track, if it ever was on track, and his go-to reaction to that is to make everything worse. One wouldn't think that a 42 year old white male who once experienced some fame, who needs money desperately, who can't figure anything out, who dallies with other women, would not be a particularly likable character, but he is, smart, and funny, and I just wanted things to work out for him.
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com “… as I struggled to stay the course, all this goodness and responsibility; it seeded an impulse toward endless badness and rebellion.”
Who is Rich Fischer? He is many selves struggling with each other, full of desires that go against the ‘goodness and responsibilities’ of a husband and father. He is tied down and yet when let loose to teach a conference on cartooning at a week-long conference, full of like minded artistic individuals he is reunited with his lover, Amy. Too, he is disappointed in himself and his cartooning. Once a success, that part of his life seems to be dwindling and his failure is like a poison seeping into his marriage. Crazy in love with his children but wondering if his very family serves as a block to another life, to his creativity. “Was this as close to love as I was ever going to get? The closer I got the more I wanted to destroy the things I loved.” A man who acts out against his marriage, causing rifts. Getting older, life closing in, his creativity possibly dying, envious of those just starting out and with much more success than him, disappointing with himself this conference feels like an alternate universe. This is where people can set their true bohemian selves free, indulging in every pleasure while focusing on their art, or on forbidden partners.
Does fate punish the adulterers, serving as a wake up call to hold fast to the life they themselves chose to make? Is it possible to rein in one’s nature and desires in order to sustain respectability, to be a loyal spouse and exemplary parent? This novel doesn’t just expose the longings Rich struggles with, it’s about how diminished marriage can make a solitary person feel, how it can chip at one’s creative side, burying any mysterious parts some of us wish to cling to. Marriage splits you open from the skull down, there is nothing that goes ‘unmeasured’. The very moment you have children, you are exposed and open to judgement. You are both a success and a failure. It’s hard to be charming and deeply fascinating when your partner knows your bathroom habits, when you’ve let them down countless times. But the flip side is the comfort of knowing you are loved despite all the disgusting parts of your nasty self. Children are a chance to live your childhood over again, to be someone’s hero. In Rich’s life, they keep him grounded in his marriage, and expand his heart to bursting. But Rich is conflicted. It’s easy to fall passionately in ‘love’ if you can call it that, with someone you don’t have to share the bleaker side of life with. What bigger indulgence than sharing passion, and having another person to complain about the crappy things in your lives without having to truly be there through the ugly stuff? It’s fantasy, isn’t it? Fantasy made flesh, but are he and Amy ever fully present in each other’s lives enough to really be ‘in love’? Yet there is intimacy, with Amy he can empty so much of himself that needs to be let out. “Giving voice to every thought in my head, having a place for that, meant a lot to me.” In every marriage, bills, children, work, life takes over, wears you down and it’s not always easy to be an ear, especially when you are resentful of your spouses laziness or failures. Sex, the sex that starts to feel monotonous, if you’re even having it because with the demands of life and young children sometimes you just don’t feel erotic and sex is the last thing on your mind. So many marriages have such intermissions from intimacy, we’re all human.
When Amy is injured playing softball, his feelings are in turmoil. To make things better, he purchases a bracelet for his lover that costs his family, emptying out their bank account. Amy O’Donnell’s life is much more comfortable than Rich’s- a mother of three, married to a distant, unloving Wall Street titan but she isn’t any happier. Yet this purchase cost even his daughter’s preschool fees in the fall. Is he unraveling, letting his passion get the best, or worst of him? ” My thoughts were slow and bleating and obstructed, but I noted, finally, that Amy had been a kind of home, a vessel for my discombobulated mind, that my own family treated me like a footstool but this stranger had cared for my soul.” Does Rich just enjoy suffering? Interesting how he relates to Amy’s complaints, likely similar to how his own wife Robin often feels about him. There is a lot about Robin too, because he does love her. Early in their relationship he notes, “I would miss her and then forget her, and have to remember her all over again.” More, he felt “Welcoming Robin back into my life was like rejoining a cult: special rules, rituals, foods, a certain way of speaking, figuring out what was permitted, how to avoid those actions now deemed wrong.” The same can be said of any relationship and more, of our our own families, we are all little cults. What a fantastic insightful thought!
Rich’s love for his children is evident in the beginning of the novel. “Their lightness and willingness and spirit and stupidity surprised me, their readiness to bravely step into a world they couldn’t understand, packed with swimming pools, speeding cars, blazing sun, fanged dogs, stinging bees, heat, silent anger, slammed doors….” any man that sees through his children’s eyes this keenly is crazy about his family. As Rich fights himself, we get a heck of a glimpse into the mind of a man as he enters the middle of his life and questions everything he has made of it, and decides what is to come. He is selfish, kind, tender, cold, wise, stupid, and as bumbling as any of us. Well done.
Who Is Rich? has a deeply authentic misery at its core. Matthew Klam’s first novel tells the story of Rich Fischer, a graphic novelist whose best days are in his past, his books out of print, and the only remnant of past glories is an annual invitation to teach autobiographical cartooning at the Matticook College Summer Arts Conference. His marriage is unsatisfying, passion buried under parenting. The glimmering bits of excitement come from a more off-again-than-on affair with Amy, a woman he met at the conference a year ago, an affair of texts, e-mails, and guilt.
The entire story happens during this short five-day conference. The affair stutters off and on and off again while the on is filled with sublime sex and the off with guilt and dislike. Amy is the wife of a billionaire. She gives away millions of dollars to charities to deflect from the guilt of their parasitic source of wealth and the hatred and alienation she feels in her marriage. Rich loves, desires, and hates her in equal measure.
His wife Robin is a television producer whose gone from traveling to dangerous places around the world to exploitive and soporific true crime series. Rich has gone from graphic novelist success to writer’s block and magazine illustration. Their saving grace is their children whom they love and struggle to parent.
This is not a novel full of action. It’s one man’s running commentary on life, politics, the economy, love, marriage, parenthood, and the stultifying boredom of being an adult. Rich is not particularly nice, he is cheating on his wife after all. But he is funny, wry, and a wicked observer of life’s absurdities. He is not a bad man, he wants to be kind and supportive and his children melt his heart into a puddle.
Frankly, the story itself is not that interesting. Sad and disillusioned middle-aged man dithering about feeling sorry for themselves are a dime a dozen. What makes Who Is Rich? special is the prose, the brilliant arrangements of words, the way modern American absurdity is captured so vividly and succinctly. I found myself frequently marking whole paragraphs to recall later. The illustrations by John Cuneo also were a fabulous addition.
To give a brief example, Rich wanders about the house waiting for his son who woke in the night to start crying again after being soothed and fed, waiting and wandering until he “split the worry into so many pieces it started to glitter.” He wonders whether he still has stories to tell, though also thinks that he will be relevant as long as people “want to cram their spouses into a dumpster.”
The title asks us Who Is Rich? but it’s asking two questions, really. Who is Rich Fischer? and who is rich in the things that matter. Amy has billions, but she is miserable. It’s a title, so the words are capitalized, but maybe the question is not “Who is Rich?” but “Who is rich?” It’s hard to tell, particular when Rich is telling the story…is he honest about his life? Who can tell, after all, as he tells us there is no such thing as a reliable narrator.
Who Is Rich? will be released July 4th. i received an advanced e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.
Wow, I really hated this book. I wanted to quit about 20 pages in, but I'd received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a review, so I had to slog through all 321 pages.
Rich is a middle-aged author of comics who is going through a mid-life crisis. Married with two kids, he can't wait to get away from his family every summer, when he leaves for an artists' camp. Every summer he teaches a comics writing class at the camp, and every summer he hooks up with the same camp attendee, Amy. Their long-term ongoing affair has Rich questioning who or what he really loves and what he really wants out of life, if anything.
First, let's talk about the characters: basically, Rich is the sole main character in the book; everyone else is a supporting character. Rich is an ass. I can't stand him or anything he says or thinks or does. He rambles on and on about goodness-knows-what. I really hated him.
Now let's talk about the writing. Tedious with a capital T. The book is written in the first person, from Rich's point of view. The entire first 20 pages is just Rich talking about his arrival at camp. It is written in such an impersonal way as to be completely boring, not engaging at all. (This is why I was ready to quit after these first 20 pages.) Then there is a sudden shift in tone on page 20, so incongruous a shift that my reading actually came to a screeching halt. From aloofly talking about driving to camp, all of a sudden Rich starts talking about his dissatisfaction with his sex life at home. What? It's as if author Matthew Klam started out writing one kind of book and abruptly decided to write about something else. So odd.
Another thing I disliked about Klam's writing: Rich always describes every person at the camp. Every. Single. Person. Even if that person never shows up again in the book, Rich has to mention so-and-so, who writes such-and-such and did this-and-that. OMG, I don't care. These are not characters that have any role in the book at all.
What a complete waste of my time reading this book. Truly awful.
I'm not sure if I really liked the book, I probably didn't. I didn't particularly know who Rich was, other than a sad sack mediocre cartoonist making a sort of living at illustrating political articles because he has run out of stories to tell. As in, he is now a husband and a dad to two kids, and apparently he doesn't have enough material in his own life to make an effective comic.
I don't know. I know autobiographical comic books are great - I love Maus and think it's as effective as any world war II novel or non fiction, possibly more. But this guy, I thought premise of his original strip and novel was tired and boring to begin with. Also, if Rich was low level blaming his marriage and kids for not having enough material, what was really imaginative about him in the first place? I think I would have at least appreciated Rich better if the sole reason he did illustrations was that it would guarantee a paycheck.
There's also the whole having an affair because Robin, Rich's wife, doesn't want to have sex with him. It's also mercenary, not only does he wants sex with this lady, he wants to use it as basis for a new comic he intends to write. Nowhere does it seem like he regrets the affair itself. The lady, married to a zillionaire who doesn't care for her, is a Catholic swamped with guilt. Rich seems slightly amused through her crises of conscience. Rich is guilty of spending money on a woman who has everything money can buy, but never because he cheated on his wife he professes to love.
Matthew Klam writes well. But I can't really get on board with what he wrote with Who Is Rich? It's not just that Rich is not likable, it's also that I found his story uncompelling.