Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam

Who Is Rich? Is Rich merely the main character of Matthew Klam's novel? Is the question about him?  It must be.  But what about its other facets?  Is it a financial question? Is it a creative and spiritual question? In fact it is all of these and yet the complexity of this seemingly simple question and its answers cannot save this novel and this main character from themselves.

First, Rich Fischer is a whiny jerk as he examines his life. He is now (merely) an illustrator who once created a critically acclaimed graphic memoir that has netted him a consistent job teaching cartooning at a New England arts conference summer camp. This gives him the chance to escape his deteriorating marriage, his two small but needy children, and the drudgery of everyday life, and to indulge in an affair for the second year running with Amy, a wealthy bored housewife at the conference. After a winter of sexting and pent up lust, Rich is anxious to see what happens when they see each other in the flesh again.  But this second summer is destined to be a disappointment, as is immediately evident not only from Amy's accident on the first day but also from the tenor of Rich's musings.

A novel about a week at an arts conference, infidelity, marriage, parenting, and angst has the potential to really be something. And this novel is in fact something. Unfortunately, that something is dull. It is meandering and plotless and suffers from stream of consciousness narration originating inside the head of a character the reader doesn't much like, giving us a front row seat to the petulant and unpleasant Rich. His reflections on the life he is so dissatisfied with inspire annoyance rather than sympathy for a man who found early fame but now wonders if settling down to a conventional and dull, domestic life has snuffed his creative spark. His observations about Amy, the woman he is so obsessed with are primarily centered around her money and her horrible husband so that it's hard to believe he truly feels much of anything for her, much less passion. He is snarky, snottily superior, and scornful about her life even while eating himself up with jealousy over her money and acting like an ass in his own personal life.  His reflections on his wife Robin and the state of their marriage are no less unkind and callous.  There is no indication of anything appealing about Rich that would justify anyone, even a bored housewife, being interested in him and certainly this reader feels the same way. Rich's mid-life crisis is boring and the novel as a whole wallows rather than being driven by passion, choice, and a creative, interesting life.  If you want to spend time with a deeply unhappy, sulky, overly introspective character who is clearly disappointed with his life and choices, more power to you; you should pick up this book. Unfortunately, I personally was happiest when I turned the last page and closed the cover on Rich's bumbling existential struggles.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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