Who Is Rich? arrives 17 years on the heels of Matthew Klam’s much (and deservedly) lauded short story collection, Sam the Cat—to date the best (and maybe only) fictional treatment of white dudes in khakis I’ve ever enjoyed. New York magazine has the scoop on what Klam has been up to the past two decades; meanwhile I am just glad this long-awaited book has finally arrived. In all his work, Klam is savagely funny and deeply humane, and one of the least myopic chroniclers of white men around. His new novel, Who Is Rich?, follows a “once-sort-of-famous” cartoonist through a midlife crisis and a disastrous affair at a New England beach town’s summer arts conference.
Extra Crispy: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Matthew Klam: I had a leechee nut! There were a lot of fruits, and I also had some slices of kiwi and blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and something I had to google—dragon fruit, which is white with tiny black seeds. Then I had scrambled eggs, a piece of bacon, a chocolate croissant, and a decaf cappuccino.
Is that a normal breakfast for you?
God no. I couldn't stop myself. I'm at some fancy hotel in NYC. It cost $34, not including the tip. If I'd had any idea how much it cost, I would've walked out and bought an egg on a roll with ketchup and a slice of cheese for $3.
Are there any notable breakfast (or food) moments in Who Is Rich?
In this novel, the narrator, Rich, leaves his wife and children to teach an annual class in cartooning at a summer arts conference. Midway through the book, he eats two lobsters at a billionaire's home, then gets drunk and falls off his bicycle on the ride home. At the end of the book, after everything has already happened, after he almost drowns in the ocean, runs into his old flame, has illicit sex, falls madly in love, suffers searing guilt and regret, tries and fails to hang himself with his own belt, attempts to fence some valuable jewelry that doesn't belong to him, and a few other things too, he wakes up on a wooden deck along the bay, swims naked, and on his way home stops for breakfast. It's just toast and coffee, but to him it tastes so good because he really had to work for it—maybe even better than a $34 fruit-fest.
I have also interviewed your sibling, Julie, for this series. (I actually found out you were related in the course of preparing questions for her.) You both write about different subjects in different ways, but you are both writers. How--or why--did this happen?
My older brother Brian, (who is a writer too!—an award-winning copywriter who is also, in his spare time, writing a novel), began writing a short story, for fun, at the ad agency where he worked. This was in about 1988. At about the same time my sister Julie, who was then in college, began writing scripts for short films she was making at NYU. I wasn't doing anything artistic at that time; I'd moved to Japan after college and was trying to become fluent in Japanese. I stole the idea to write from both of them.