Klam's piece was part of the Journal's occasional series in which writers review new alcohol brands. One example of how the Saturday WSJ is often more interesting and readable than the Sunday New York Times, the alcohol reviews show that booze makes for good writing.
Such was the case, well, not a case, just a bottle, with Klam's piece on trying Nelson's First 108 Tennessee Whiskey. Spanning family history, community ties and the joy and sorrow of time's passage, the piece evoked the finely turned essay that once flourished in newspapers.
I did some research into Klam, and found that on July 4, he'd publish a new novel "Who Is Rich?" The old mental flashbulb flicked on; Klam at the turn of the 21st century had been one of America's hottest young writers after publishing a series of short stories in the New Yorker collected in the book "Sam the Cat."
After the heralded arrival of that book in 2000, Klam had not published anything of significance.
The arrival of "Who Is Rich" received a burst of attention, but the book deserves more. Klam's comic novel is an essential guide to our wounded, confused, information-overloaded society. While taking place during the summer of the 2012 election when Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination, the book examines fissures in the American social structure that culminated in the age of Trump.
The book's first-person narrator, Rich Fischer, is a conflicted hero/anti-hero, endearing as he struggles with a maelstrom of existential dilemmas and bad ethical choices. An illustrator for a magazine that sounds like the New Republic, Fischer had gained early success with a popular graphics novel now out of print. Most of the book unfolds at one of those artistic/writers conferences where amateurs pay big money to receive instruction from arts professionals.
Riding his early success, Fischer still teaches at the conference, held at a seaside resort. Locked into a struggling marriage, the father of two young children, and beset with the financial uncertainty of America's freelance economy, Fischer meets a glamorous wealthy student at the conference and falls into a voluptuous relationship with her.
Enhanced by John Cuneo's illustrations, such as the one above, the book illuminates a range of American economic and social conflicts, drawing laughter etched with pain.
While Klam fans might bemoan his long silence, "What Is Rich" fulfills his early brilliance. The book brings forth the new American language of our time.