30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Lauren Groff, Glen David Gold, Audrey Niffenegger--the list goes on and on. An author writes an exceptional first novel that rockets them to the top of my favorites list. Then commences that eternal wait for the follow-up; the wait to see if it was a fluke or what.
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The Visible Man is a short novel in the form of an unpublished manuscript being submitted to Simon & Schuster, complete with cover letter and parenthetical notes to an editor.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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
So you know what you're getting from the start: Chuck Klosterman fiction is almost indistinguishable from Chuck Klosterman non-fiction.
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.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I don't think Chuck Klosterman has written a book that I didn't read in a single day. His narrative voice is labyrinthine, prone to odd tangents, but (to me, at least) fiercely addictive. I love his essays and I didn't not love his first novel, Downtown Owl. But I'm not sure I ever bought the concept of Downtown Owl as a novel, per se. It had the same aimless, armchair-philosopher feel of his nonfiction, and really struck me as more a handful of essays through the mouths of invented characters.
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Visible Man has an interesting premise, is an easy read, and holds your interest throughout. But when I finished the book, I felt like I had eaten an extra-large Cinnabon - lots of calories, fat, and sugar, but no substance. Much of the book consists of the ramblings of a total jerk. What was the point? And why would I (or any reader) want to read such a narrative?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
James N Simpson
- Published on Amazon.com
The main character in this one constantly tells the narrator he is not an invisible man but I still classify a guy who can't be seen due to a suit and cream he has developed as invisible. I've read most of the invisible man genre and this one is unique in that it is being told by a therapist who is trying to get her notes and experiences with a patient who she calls Y____ published. Y____ insists on no face to face meetings with Victoria Vick, and doesn't want to go into details, claiming Victoria isn't intelligent enough to understand, about his scientific work which has resulted in the invention of a suit and cream that allows him to be in a room with someone and they are oblivious to the fact he is there. Y____ enjoys observing people and that's what he wants to talk about, the behaviour of the people he has observed and the results of the occasional intervention into their lives by his actions. However Victoria initially doesn't take Y____'s claims as fact, assuming he has a mental disability and is trying to get him to meet her so she can take him to the appropriate facility if she can convince him to go.
This unbelief of the invisible man's claims does take up a large section of the novel's word count meaning there's huge potential for the storyline that we never delve into much. Y____ is also a bit of boring invisible man, he doesn't get up to much exciting stuff at all, content to just study random strangers. The fact he never goes into details about how the suit and cream actually works due to the therapists intelligence level does work, but it does also mean issues such as how does he eat and remain unobserved, use the toilet, avoid casting a shadow etc, only really briefly covered. I would have liked a lot more substance on that as well as non mentioned stuff like dust settling on him. Although you'd think a non traditional format of transcripts and letters replacing the usual written novel style wouldn't work, it actually does.
There's the brief moments of humour every now and then such as pigeons flying straight into his face as well as important trivia stuff you'd probably never thought of such as an invisible person would be totally blind since a transparent retina wouldn't register colour.