Dear Matthew Klam,
Hi. You don’t know me. I don’t know you either, but I know your book, Sam the Cat. Eleven years ago, a man gave it to me. I was lounging in his house one morning, trying to ignore his obvious hints that he wanted me to leave.
“Maybe you can read it on the bus home,” he said, handing me a book with a man’s chino-swathed crotch emblazoned on the cover. “It’s like this guy is my brain.”
I took it because, at the time, I was quite obsessed with that particular person’s brain. I went home and devoured it. And the book made me love him even more. Because this was a terrific collection. Obviously, my reluctant soul mate was trying to connect with me by having me read about such real male characters who struggled with commitment and relationships.
These days, I doubt such subtext existed. Or maybe it did, and he was trying to tell me that he himself was indecisive and couldn’t commit to me. Eventually, he decided that by having sex with me and then not calling ever, I’d figure it out. It took years to extricate myself from his manipulative tentacles, Matthew. Years. But I’m still grateful to him, because he gave me your book.
You know why I’m writing, don’t you? You are missed. I have been waiting for your next book now for eleven years. Eleven! That’s a long time to anxiously scan book review sections, a long time to casually mention your name when I’m among people who read.
“Does anyone know if…Has anyone heard about Matthew Klam’s next book?” It’s like asking after a long-lost friend from college or camp.
And I hesitate to say this, but I think you can take it: not everyone loves you like I do, Matthew. Male writers, especially, get huffy at the mention of your name.
“Over-sharer,” said one.
“The only good thing about that guy,” said another, “is that he seems to have gone away.”
But I know that’s not true, as do many, many others, who also miss you. I know that you are threatening because you presented the world in a different way. I still think about “Issues I Dealt With in Therapy,” that delicious, wrenching story in which your character goes to the wedding of a wildly successful friend and then gives the worst speech of all time at the rehearsal dinner. I actually used it in a course I’m teaching, and one of the students, during a reading out loud of the most painful part, said, “Oh my God, can you do that?”
“If you can pull it off,” I answered.
Because most people can’t, Matthew. They also can’t pull off what you did in “Not This,” the story about a guy who goes to visit a successful brother he’s always been jealous of, only to find that his brother is actually working for the mob. Or “There Should Be A Name For It,” about a guy who encourages his girlfriend to get an abortion and then can’t handle her anger. Your men are crass and sexist, yet lovable and complicated—weak, but strong enough to acknowledge and broadcast their flaws. These are great stories: hilarious and cruel and emotionally bloody, and it’s been a long time and I remember every one.
It’s funny, Matthew, because I spend a lot of time reading and talking about the plight of the female author. You know VIDA, right? So you know all the numbers describing how we women get screwed in terms of reviews and publications. It’s not like we need another Roth or Franzen or Russo. The job of gorgeous pontificator on the fragility of The Modern Male is filled, Matthew.
And yet here I am, begging a white guy to put another book out there about his penis problems. Because your book is different. I hate when people peg my own writing this way, but what the hell. In that slim volume, you were John Updike meets P.G. Wodehouse meets beer. The voice is slanted, hilarious, and unpretentious, and a lot of those sentences are very, very pretty.
So what’s going on, anyway, Matthew? Kids? Writer’s block? Maybe you got a job writing for TV or something. Maybe you got a job as a sea captain, and decided writing is boring. It is, seriously. I know it is.
Or is it the second book thing? Listen, I know all about it. Six years ago, I was in my kitchen, having what must have been a nervous breakdown. I called 911 on myself. See, I’d gotten a little money for my second book because people really liked the first one, and then I spent it. And now it would never be finished because I was an incompetent hack. So obviously, I dialed 911.
“I am a hack!” I yelled into the phone. “I need an ambulance!”
They did not send an ambulance. They told me to go lie down and to see a psychiatrist.
So, fine. If that’s the problem, I get it. Totally. But you have a shot of whiskey, Matthew. You lie down, and then get up and shuffle back to the laptop. You take the meds they give you. Me, I like a little Celexa and coffee. Yoga, pot, whatever. You take it and keep going.
Because you know what? You can’t just put out a book of stories that means so much to so many people and then just disappear. It’s irresponsible. It means you’re a tease, Matthew. Okay, now you can sort of see why that guy went running eleven years ago. I have a lot of expectations. It’s true. But you owe me, Matthew. You made me fall in love, and you owe me. You owe me a nice novel about one of those men you created with such vitality, or at the very least a slim volume of more hilarious and sad stories about fucked up couples trying fucked up things in order to figure it out. I’ll take that, sure. Just give me some crumbs, Matthew. Something.
This is only me talking, remember. I’m not promising a movie deal or anything. But I’m not the only one waiting, I know that. I gave your book to enough people to know that we have been looking out, puttering through bookstores, waiting for you. I haven’t joined your fan page or anything. I haven’t tweeted. I just go by the new titles, scanning for your name. Nothing yet. It’s getting old, Matthew. And so am I.
Matthew, I hope we never meet. This isn’t personal, it’s just that when I meet the authors of books I truly love, I’m almost always a little disappointed. The person behind the curtain is so often just a normal, muttering schlub, like myself. Or else they’re sort of bitchy and aloof and immediately look around the room for someone more important to talk to. Or they just look at my boobs. (Or they did, back when your book came out.)
But maybe you’d be none of these things, and we’d be best friends and have a beer, and you’d open up and tell me all the very good reasons you haven’t gotten that book out yet: bankruptcy, the death of parents, sick kids. I got a divorce, Katie. Piyaluk left me, and I’m sick with grief.
I get those problems. They are horrible, and if I were your friend, I would tell you that you deserve to live your life the way you want. That you deserve to be happy.
But I am not your friend, Matthew. I am your reader. The two are different. It took me a long time to understand that. I don’t have to like you, and you don’t have to like me. Yet you created something that lives, something that means something to me. And then you stopped and I can’t figure out why.
You know, sometimes, when I’m sitting alone trying to write, pondering calling 911 on myself, I wish that someone would come out of nowhere and tell me to keep the going. That all of this time spent in this dark room alone, while the rest of the world rushes on, while they prepare family dinners in designer kitchens and have sex outdoors in the middle of the day, while they form educated opinions on Syria and take their elderly parents on walks, while they man the supply tents in Haiti and sit shoulder to shoulder with their children on glistening boats, while they do the things I’d really fucking like to be doing, well, I’d like to know that it’s all worth something. That I’m not just wasting my life, because someone somewhere read a slice of my drivel and one of those phrases lodged itself permanently into a brain.
Yet no one ever does call, do they? I’m not complaining. It’s just reality. This thing we do, it’s a lonely business. It’s what we sign up for. And, listen, this is not a cry for help. After some knocks, I’ve developed narcissism. So I’m doing okay.
But maybe you’re not all right with all this aloneness. With this endless drone of self-doubt. And you need a voice to say, “Hey, get the fuck going, Matthew Klam.” So here I am. Ding dong, the call has come. Your writing is worth wasting your life for. It is worth turning your back on that sea captain’s license. Here’s why: Eleven years ago, a young woman read a story on a bus and thought, You know what? This guy who gave me this book will never, ever love me.
It didn’t change her actions. She kept on sleeping with him and getting kicked out in the morning. And yet. Beneath the glacier, an essential, imperceptible shift.
Don’t email me. Don’t Facebook me. Just get it done. Thanks.