30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
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The Visible Man is a short novel in the form of an unpublished manuscript being submitted to Simon & Schuster, complete with cover letter and parenthetical notes to an editor.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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2012
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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2011
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2012
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
on February 16, 2015
Much like the therapist character in this novel, Visible Man left me with a significant amount of cognitive dissonance. I am torn between its brilliant commentary (and metacommentary) on the nature of self and evolving postmodernity and its simultaneous misogyny.
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".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2011
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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2012
I have really liked the work of Chuck Klosterman in the past. He made his name writing pop-culture essays that had fun footnotes. They were also smart, funny, incredibly insightful, and displayed a wide range of knowledge. The last book that made me stay up all night reading so I could finish it was his book _Eating the Dinosaur_. It was several years ago, and a hot summer night.
Lately though, Klosterman has taken to writing fiction. His first novel, _Downtown Owl_, was one of those autobiographical novels that it seems that a beginning fiction writer has to write. Even if he's been writing for years. Heck, even if he's been essentially writing about himself for years. Perhaps it was just too hard a transition. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable. I could pick it up off my shelf and read the dust-jacket to spark my mind, or if you're curious you could click on the link that I am sure is around here somewhere.
With _The Visible Man_, Klosterman is more ambitious. This book must have got caught in the shuffle in the wake of some of the other big names releasing new books in the fall of 2011, since I wasn't aware of it until I saw it on the shelf of my local library. It didn't fully deserve to get lost though. Or maybe it did.
You see, I'm torn. In multiple times of thinking about this book I've thought of separate references to Dostoevsky. I've also thought of bad undergraduate writing: my own. First off, the book isn't told as a straight narrative. The conceit is that the book you are reading is a draft copy of a book that the narrator is submitting to her editor. It is largely in the form of emails and case notes, as she is a therapist explaining this case. It is a creepy echo of a story I wrote years ago and buried that was the case notes of a doctor in a psych ward and I tried to get the reader to question who was sane, the doctor or the patient. Finding these echoes made me think and wonder if I was being cutting-edge, or if Klosterman was being juvenile and derivative here. My vote is against my own creativity.
The thing is, Klosterman does it much better than I ever did or could do. It took me a while to move past the framing device as a reader, but once I was able to accept it, it became fairly transparent. The other problem is that he created a deep, complex, and interesting character - whom I couldn't stand. The action centers around a character identified as Y____, a scientist who comes to the therapist with a story about inventing a suit that renders the wearer almost invisible (but not quite). He uses this power to observe people as they are alone; the time Y_____ claims people are the most themselves. Stuff happens and eventually resolves, but I couldn't get over the character. That's where the references to Dostoevsky fit in. I see Y____ as a new Underground Man, a new Rashkolnokov. He has a bit of Toole's Ignatius Riley in there too. I just didn't like him.
I didn't like him until I realized something. The plot of the book didn't matter. Y_____ is just Klosterman in another world. Klosterman just lacks the suit, which is the dividing line. If you've read his earlier work, you know that Klosterman knows what we're like when we're truly alone. Maybe what I didn't like about Y___ was not the character, but what he showed me about myself.
But really Chuck, please put out more essay anthologies when you get the time.
on April 20, 2013
The Visible Man is Klosterman's attempt at a novel, only it isn't a novel. Not really. It's more the rant of a madman -- an extremely eloquent, seemingly brilliant madman who shares many of Klosterman's views on human relationships.
The story is told through the perspective of Y____'s psychiatrist, writing down the transcripts of their sessions. Only Y insists on controlling the sessions by ranting the entire time, only occasionally letting her get a word in. So the story is really a long essay, told through a fictionalized story of a scientist who invented a light-refracting suit, making him appear invisible. He uses his newfound powers to sneak into single people's houses and watch them for days at a time. He's fascinated with how people reveal their loneliness and failures when they are alone, and how their friends and social groups would never know through their interactions. Occasionally, he interferes, trying to help in his sociopathic way. Results are never as intended.
What makes the story interesting is how much of an unreliable narrator Y___ is. The psychiatrist frequently doubts his story, but we're given nothing else to go on, as she doesn't feel the need to fact check his story outside their sessions. Her rationalist husband finds this lack of veracity disturbing, and she finds his criticism unattractive. But the husband is a foil to the audience and our inability to verify any truths leave the morals disturbingly vague.
The purpose of the story is largely unclear, as is the aftermath. Victoria the psychiatrist notes in her opening letter to her publisher that this tale would be worth far less as fiction. Klosterman makes no effort to contradict her. And since the story is fiction, I'm left feeling incomplete.
For an extended rant, the story was an easy read. It kept me hooked from beginning to end, and I enjoyed seeing the creatively fleshed out stories of Y___'s next voyeur targets. Klosterman is a smooth talker in touch with culture-obsessed society. Even when he rants, he's clever. But start from Eating the Dinosaur and work your way down -- you'll get more for your time.
on February 21, 2012
Overall, this is a quick and entertaining read. Klosterman is at his strongest writing misanthropic quips from Y___, the visible man, like a great joke about a clown on page 11 or this explanation for American craziness from page 133:
"I'd say 25 percent of our populace has craziness in the blood. It's genetic. It's historical. I mean, what kind of person immigrated to the New World? Not counting slaves, there were only four types, really: people who didn't think Europe was religious enough, people who thought they could make a lot of money, antisocial failures with no other option, and fruitcakes who thought risking their lives on an alien shore might make for an interesting adventure. Those are the four components of the American gene pool, and those are the four explanations behind everything good and everything bad that's ever happened here."
The stories Y___ tells about observing people when they are alone are believable, amusing, and insightful; however, there are surprisingly few of these in the book. Most of the book focuses on the therapist, Victoria Vick's, feelings about Y___'s stories. It gets pretty frustrating to hear her allude to dozens of stories while only sharing the specifics of a scant few. Meanwhile, Vickie's arguments get long and repetitive.
The plot is conveyed through Vickie's unreliable interpretation of Y___'s unreliable stories, and while this double-layered unreliability could add depth to the story, in practice it just makes things tedious. The story also takes some turns at the end that follow an uncomfortable trope of wounded black masculinity that might upset some readers.
The Visible Man is at times witty and insightful. The majority of the pages are devoted to Vickie Vick, and I did not appreciate her character or the story of the patient/therapist relationship which dominated the book, but the good parts of the book are extremely clever and justify breezing through the rest.
on December 25, 2011
Chuck Klosterman's THE VISIBLE MAN is a fascinating story combining the elements of therapy and magic, with a believable premise and an exciting conclusion. Klosterman, of course, is best known for his collections of pop culture essays and his non-fiction, such as KILLING YOURSELF TO LIVE and FARGO ROCK CITY. In 2008 he published his first novel, OWL CITY, which was one of my favorite books of the year. I was looking forward to his latest novel, and made no haste once Douglas Coupland raved about the book on Twitter. THE VISIBLE MAN is about Vickie Vick, a therapist who has submitted for publication a non-fiction account of her interactions with an unusual patient. The patient in question is a scientist who worked for a government agency developing a cloaking device for possible military use. When the lab eventually is shuttered he takes the materials home with him so that he can cloak himself for the purpose of spying on ordinary people for purely sogiological reasons. Klosterman, beit fiction of non, is an astute observer of human behavior, and the passage where Y_____ (the cloaked man) describes the routines of these people is beautiful, poignant and makes you wonder how you would be seen by such a character. There is a small nod, it seems to me, to Nicholson Baker's THE FERMATA and perhaps Harry Potter in his magical abilities. Of course, Y_____ being in therapy brings up its own issues, and Vick fortunately records the later sessions and recounts Y_____'s eventual amalgamation into in her life. Klosterman makes the scientific explanation believable (why wouldn't it be? airplanes and the internet and submarines seemed far fetched too at one time) and, added with the human interactions (though interaction is the wrong word), Klosterman suspends the reader's belief in what could be an inconceivable story. Klosterman's latest essays, while enjoyable, are becoming increasingly outside of my knowledge-base, what with his essays on bands I've never heard of and athletes I'm not familiar with. I am quite happy now that he has this career as a novelist so that I can still enjoy his impeccable story structure and wonderful attention to prose and character.