MY BASELINE IS pretty high even when things aren’t going my way,” says an even-keeled Matthew Klam. A couple of decades ago, things were clearly going the DC author’s way: It was a heady stretch for Klam, as he was heralded as one of the 20 best fiction writers in America under 40 by The New Yorker, and he published his short-story collection, Sam the Cat, to lightning-strike acclaim and a slew of literary awards.
With the recent publication of his second book, Who is Rich? ($27, Random House), things are going Klam’s way again. The reviews have been rapturous, and praise from literary gods like Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford and Michael Cunningham have poured in. (Cunningham said, “I seriously, deeply love this book.”) It’s a funny, awkwardly sexy and melancholy work. It’s about adultery and brings to mind John Updike’s Rabbit novels; it’s about teaching and recalls Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
Hollywood has even come calling. “My friend, [producer] Michael Seitzman hired me,” Klam says. “So I’m going to Los Angeles to work on Quantico from August until March. It’s an FBI show that’s been on a few years, and they want to try some different things. They hired me because the showrunner thinks I know how to write character. So I’m going there to try to write some character.”
For Who is Rich?, Klam found his struggling cartoonist character by looking within, crafting a story of a man grappling with the burdens and expectations of bygone success. In real life, it’s an arc that has left the author wary—and wry. “If I have one piece of advice for other writers,” Klam says, “it’s to wait 17 years, and everyone will be nice to you.”