A down-on-his-luck cartoonist is besieged by worries about money, art, and infidelity.
Klam’s debut novel following a book of short stories (Sam the Cat, 2000) is narrated by Rich, a celebrated comic-book artist and magazine illustrator who’s spending a few days teaching at a tony East Coast artist’s retreat. His upper-middle-class facade of cultural accomplishment is rapidly collapsing, though: his signature work is six years old, the bespoke magazine (like the retreat) pays poorly, and, most importantly, he’s been cheating on his wife, Robin, with Amy, a student at the retreat. Should he ditch Robin (sexless marriage, two spirit-killing young children) and pursue a relationship with Amy, a billionaire’s wife whom he loves and who could perhaps resolve his money woes? And how ethical would it be for him to mine all this for the second book he’s stalled on? In short, Rich is an unsympathetic character marinating in self-pity, but Klam carries the story by framing his predicament as (mostly) comic, poking fun not just at Rich’s narcissistic fumblings, but the media landscape, the wealthy’s obliviousness to everyday reality, overearnest students, and the forced-fun get-togethers at the workshop. (It’s at one such event, a softball game, where Amy breaks an arm, prompting a surge in Rich’s romantic attentions as well as a foolish I’m-my-own-man jewelry purchase.) There are a few too many scenes of Rich’s maudlin musings and philanderer’s rationalizations, but when Klam sustains a satirical mode (bolstered by John Cuneo’s caricatures), the novel sings, making Rich a fascinating figure despite his flaws. He might be working on an old-hat “semiautobiographical story told in arty-farty black-and-white panels of a heterosexual white guy,” but he insists that “until the day people stopped wishing they could cram their spouse into a dumpster, my story was relevant, too.”
A tale of middle-aged ennui that gets sharper as it gets funnier.