Who is Rich?

Matthew Klam. Random House, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9798-9
In his first novel, Klam (Sam the Cat) explores excess and penury, conspicuous consumption and tortured artistic production, as well as monogamy and its discontents in an acidly funny portrait of a has-been cartoonist. Some years having passed since his acclaimed graphic novel appeared, Rich works as an illustrator for a magazine (a thinly veiled New Republic), a gig that pays the bills, just barely, but doesn’t satisfy his artistic ambitions: “Illustration is to cartooning as prison sodomy is to pansexual orgy. Not the same thing at all.” As the novel opens, he is preparing to lead an illustration workshop at a Cape Cod summer arts conference, an “open-air loony bin” whose collection of teachers and megalomaniac sponsor Klam satirizes marvelously. Away from his wife and children, Rich carries on an affair with Amy, a painter and “emotionally stunted zillionaire” who is married to a banker funneling money to right-wing political causes. Two dilemmas arise: whether Rich should mine his “debasing experiences for the purposes of artistic advancement,” perhaps ruining his shaky marriage in the process, and whether he should sacrifice his self-respect and accept help from his “plutocrat” lover. Though there are stretches in which Rich’s middle-aged male angst can be stifling, the vibrant prose (accompanied by John Cuneo’s equally vibrant illustrations) enlivens the proceedings. Libidinous, impulsive, sarcastic, bitter, casually suicidal, and committed to his art—“I’d given up everything for cartooning, and for that alone I deserved to die”—Rich is a worthy addition to American literature’s distinguished line of hapless antiheroes. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2017
Release date: 07/04/2017
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-8129-8753-9
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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