‘Who is Rich?’ by Matthew Klam – A Tiresome Long Weekend in New England


‘Who is Rich?’ by Matthew Klam   (2017) – 321 pages


‘Who is Rich?’ is fun for the first twenty pages or so when our narrator is snide and cynical describing the students and the other instructors at the New England summer arts conference where he is an instructor in cartooning.  He easily demolishes all the pretensions and excesses and inadequacies of all these would-be prospective artists and writers and their instructors who are there to make a little extra money and have some hot fun in the sun away from their families.  Having attended a few of these arts workshops myself, I can assure you that all of us naïve but gullible participants are easy targets for derision.

The instructors are also ripe for over-the-top disparagement:

“In the big hall of the main building I heard Tabitha give the same speech she gave last year, about her spiritual journey beyond incest, into alcoholism, then past that, into group sex and casino gambling, ending in healing and forgiveness.” 

However after this sneering fun, the narrator begins to talk about himself.  Then this instructor/narrator in ‘Who is Rich?’ of a sudden gets all sincere.  He talks about his early success with a graphic novel only later to have to settle for a career as a magazine illustrator.  He talks about his exhausted wife who is at home taking care of their two little kids and also about his rich mistress who is at the conference. His voice and attitude change from cynical and snide to earnest and heartfelt. Our guy is self-absorbed and whiny and unhappy. That is when he gets real tiresome.  Unfortunately he goes on in this fashion for almost 300 pages.  This novel would have been much more fun if the narrator had applied to himself the same derisive cynicism he applies to all the other conference goers and instructors.

So for ‘Who is Rich?’, the first twenty pages sparkle and the last 300 pages drag.  This is one of those novels where I got sucked in by a strong beginning only to spend the rest of the novel debating whether I should just quit reading it.

The problem with self-absorbed narrators is that they focus on themselves at the expense of everyone else.  Thus the characterization of his wife does not go much beyond “frazzled”.  His kids are an adorable nuisance. His girlfriend at the conference is “hot and rich”. This is the second year of his affair with her, that difficult stage when his mistress begins to seem just as annoying as his wife.

‘Who is Rich?’ is the kind of novel that when the narrator contemplates suicide, the reader wishes he would just go ahead and do it and cut a hundred or so pages off the reading.


Grade :   D



11 responses to this post.

  1. Oh dear… Love that last paragraph and I’m definitely going to give this one a miss!



  2. Narcissism in literature is ok when the author is consciously exposing it to make a point (even though it’s not revealing anything new to most of us) but navel-gazing novels written entirely from a narcissistic PoV that are not ironic – like those Karl Ove Knausgaard monstrosities – are unbearable, IMO.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, this novel here, ‘Who is Rich’, first makes light of other people’s plights and then wants us to empathize with his own plight. First it tries to be a comic novel and then switches modes where apparently we are supposed to take his pains seriously.
      I’m no fan of Karl Ove Knausgaard, but compared to this guy he’s Tolstoy.



  3. Ugh. I wouldn’t have had the patience to read to the end



  4. From the description, I thought I’d enjoy this book. It started off strongly, but then … when he took off to see the mistress all the time bitching about the wife, I wanted to get his wife’s view of things.



    • Hi Guy Savage,
      I searched for your review of ‘Who is Rich’ using ‘Matthew Klam’ and ‘Who is Rich’, but didn’t find one so apparently that is upcoming.
      It sounds like your reactions were very similar to mine. The early part was fun, but his voice soon grew tiresome.
      I am really surprised that so many big-name reviewers and publications like Ron Charles and the New Yorker, and NYT praised the novel so highly. Perhaps they read only the first 20 pages? 🙂



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