The Visible Man: A Novel Hardcover – Oct 4 2011
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“Klosterman has conjured up a novel that manages to be both wildly experimental and accessible, while making perceptive observations about privacy, human nature, and of course, the author’s forte, pop culture.”—Entertainment Weekly (A-)
"The Visible Man is a rich, fast-paced and funny novel made to entertain lovers of literary metafiction, sci-fi and thrillers.”—Dallas Morning News
“Hidden beneath The Visible Man’s kaleidoscopic structure and high-wire stunts in an irrefutable narrative logic. And like [his main character], Klosterman knows when to get out of the way.... All fiction should be so sly.” —NPR.org
About the Author
Chuck Klosterman is the New York Times bestselling author of seven previous books, including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Eating the Dinosaur; Killing Yourself to Live; and The Visible Man. His debut book, Fargo Rock City, was the winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. He has written for GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Believer, and The Onion A.V. Club. He currently serves as “The Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine and writes about sports and popular culture for ESPN.See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I LOVED Chuck Klosterman's debut novel, Downtown Owl. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes, and until he genuinely brought me to tears. Awesome. I've been awaiting his sophomore effort and hoping for more of the same. And I was fortunate--not only because I was handed an advance galley of this book by the man himself--but also because he warned me that this second novel is radically different in subject matter and tone than the first.
The Visible Man is a short novel in the form of an unpublished manuscript being submitted to Simon & Schuster, complete with cover letter and parenthetical notes to an editor. The author of the supposedly non-fiction manuscript is a therapist named Vicky Vick. The book she's written details the therapeutic and other interactions she had with the most extraordinary patient she will ever treat. Identified only as Y___, their initial sessions occur over the telephone. Y___ is very reticent to provide personal details, including the issue that has brought him to seek treatment.
Ultimately, the story comes out; supposedly, he's a scientist who designed, on his own, a suit that allows him to remain unseen by others. Effectively, he can become all but invisible. He has issues regarding "the sensation of guilt" brought about by actions he's undertaken when cloaked. Namely, he's been observing strangers alone in their homes without their knowledge. The story of both patient and therapist is relayed through her professional notes and observations, through transcripts of recorded therapy sessions, answering machine messages, and so forth.
On the one level, this is just plain, old-fashioned good story telling. You've got a psych patient who says he can become invisible. Is he delusional? What--if anything--that he says is the truth? Where is this story going to go? On another level, Mr. Klosterman, speaking in the voice of the enigmatic and troubling Y___, gets to engage in all sorts of interesting social and philosophical commentary, and to share the fascinating and bizarre stories of those he spies on:
"My earliest memories all involve staring at people and wondering who they actually were. Staring at my mom, for example, and wondering who she was and what she really felt, and how her mother-centric worldview compared to mine. I didn't know the definition of the word worldview, but I still had one. My mom was a different person around my brother and a different person around my dad and a different person on the telephone--why would I be the one exception who saw the real her?"
Or, "Our world is really backward, Victoria. It's backward. Look what society does. It takes the handful of people who know how to succeed and makes them feel terrible for being different. Everyone is supposed to be mediocre, I guess. Everyone is supposed to be dragged into the middle--either down from their success, or up from their self-imposed malfunction. These people didn't need a support group. These people needed someone to tell them they were okay."
This is not a comic novel as Downtown Owl was, but there is plenty of humor within the pages. "Men who talk about the details of their sex life are not real people. I'm not a rapper. I'm not a Jewish novelist." I don't think Mr. Klosterman knows how to be not funny. He does, however, know how to write. The benefit of having only the two principle characters in this story is that they become fully fleshed, even through this non-traditional narrative. Their relationship is a strange and intimate one.
Ultimately, this novel worked for me on many levels. It wasn't the book that I was hoping for, perhaps, but kudos to Mr. Klosterman for highlighting the diversity of his talent. Sophomore novels are so very often a let-down, but Chuck Klosterman remains near the top of my must-read list.
Klosterman's other work of fiction, Downtown Owl, had this same characteristic. In both books, most of the text takes the form of dense musings that is unmistakably in Klosterman's voice. All the characters speak in Klosterman's voice as well. Plot is, at most, a small framing device for the dense musings... until Chuck starts running out of ideas that fit into this framing device, so he conjures a major event out of nowhere and uses that as an excuse to end the book.
This is even more transparent in The Visible Man. There are two main characters. One of them is a blatant author self-insert: he speaks in Chuck Klosterman essays. The other has barely any agency -- she's essentially a stand-in for someone reading Chuck Klosterman essays. The book is written from the audience stand-in's first-person perspective, and her narration amounts to Chuck Klosterman telling you how he thinks, or wishes, other people react to his philosophy. It gets irritating after a while. For about four-fifths of the book, nothing actually happens. The Visible Man's book-ending major event fits the rest of the book better than Downtown Owl's does, but it, and the perfunctory progression leading up to it, feels like an afterthought. The book would actually be better served without this ending, I think -- it contains little or none of the musings that make the rest of the book interesting, and it's thoroughly unsatisfying. There's no reason for it to be there other than that the book is intended to be fiction.
All that said, however, a book of Chuck Klosterman non-fiction with a bit of window-dressing is still an enjoyable thing to read. Even though his writing style seems deliberately obtuse at times, it's still fun to read, and his thoughts are still interesting to hear. I just wish he'd stop pretending his non-fiction is fiction. If he's going to write something and call it a novel, it should have a plot that stands on its own.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, by how much The Visible Man IS actually a novel. As other reviewers have noted, there is still some philosophical heft here, revolving mainly around questions of self and whether the person that we are around others is ever in a real sense the person we truly are at our core. The invisible-esque man is convinced that only observations of people when they believe they are alone are valid glimpses at their true self, and whether or not you agree, it's a fascinating conundrum.
But unlike Downtown Owl, I really felt like this was a story, and not an essay with characters in it. The semi-unreliable narrator (or rather, narrator who is very aware of her own shortcomings) is likeable and reads as a character with her own personality, and her nameless client is a wonderfully written balance between charisma and total sociopathy. You can see how our therapist becomes fixated on him and his bizarre worldview, but we never quite lose sight of his disturbing undercurrents, and the ending feels both surprising and inevitable.
I was hooked on this right away, and almost resented the interruptions of daily life that kept me from finishing it in one sitting. I'm pleased that Klosterman has finally made the jump to writing fiction that stands on its own two legs, and I'm excited to see what he'll do next.
Although Klosterman's character Y (a close insert for K himself) claims he is "not a Jewish" novelist, he seems to be maniacally channeling the ego of Phillip Roth. At one point Y points out that "if an author wants to make a fictional character sympathetic, the easiest way to make that happen is to place them in a humiliating scenario," and this is what K does repeatedly to the unreliable, therapist narrator Victoria over and over again. Oh, our overly attached and flawed Victoria becomes the signifier of humiliation at Y's behest. However, this seems to be her one defining characteristic, and given the narrative structure, without this flawed and weak character, Y would cease to exist, for predators are nothing without their prey. I do concede that Victoria is a necessary device for pointing out the contradictions of Y's character, but she usually apologizes for her insight and admits that most of her sentences "read like they were written by a battered wife".
On the other hand, Visible Man is an interesting exploration on the nature and presentation of self. It questions the foundations of reality and is rather reminiscent of the classic Klosterman essay on the Real World, where fictional reality becomes desired over objective reality. However this book goes further, dismissing the idea that an objective reality could actually exist.
So like Natalie Imbruglia, you could say this book leaves me fundamentally "torn".