The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
Genre: Science-fiction, psychology, nearly-invisible-man, HOLY SHIT NEARLY-INVISIBLE-MAN!
Rating: 4.63 out of 5 stars
Summary: Therapist Victoria Vicks finds herself with Y___, one of the strangest clients in her career, who informs her he has stolen government cloaking technology in order to continue his voyeur lifestyle. Over the course of their tumultuous relationship, Vicky finds herself overly intrigued with her nearly-invisible patient, endangering her career, and her life.
Chuck Klosterman is well known for his hysterical essays on popular culture that feature Back to the Future jokes and comparing apples and wolverines to one another. Those are just two examples off the top of my head. I also recall an amazing essay on “Saved by the Bell”, and a tale of how Bono is a crazy person. True story.
This fiction novel (the second from Klosterman) is quintessential, Chuck, with his typical references to pop culture, a theme that explores the impact of media on our everyday lives, and an off the walls story that no other author could write nearly as successfully. They could try, but they would inevitably fail.
Despite that this is a fiction novel, Klosterman can’t help but throw his popular culture references into it, which actually helps to ground the novel in more of a reality despite the far flung premise. Since Y___ is nearly invisible of course there are digs at H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Hollow Man, and magical rings created by Tolkien. There are also references to “Lost”, story arcs in which Batman dies, and scenes in There Will Be Blood. At least I am assuming there are “Lost” references, having never watched the show. But what other series has polar bears and smoke monsters and islands?
It became quickly apparent that this is not your normal A to Z novel with people who fall in love and everyone living happily ever after (references aside). First of all, the novel itself is masquerading as nonfiction. It’s written in the form of an unfinished manuscript by therapist Victoria, AKA Vicky Vicks (gotta love the alliteration) to her editor Crosby Bumpus, complete with aside notes to him about the narrative. To further complicate things, this manuscript is being sent to Simon and Schuster’s imprint Scribner, who published this same Klosterman novel. Ahhhh, you’re breaking the fourth wall a la Zack Morris. This is a typical Chuck Klosterman reference, although not nearly so refined. If it WAS a Chuck Klosterman reference you would have laughed.
The narrative itself is composed of emails, telephone transcripts, and recorded sessions, all of which are written in the calculating, clinical tone of a therapist. Y___ ‘s narrative by contrast is simultaneously intelligent, humorous, and abrasive. In layman’s terms, Y___ is kind of a douche. Especially when he realizes that Vicky, whose email we are told is email@example.com, believes his invisibility is brought on by some sort of psychosis. She is surprised and shocked when he comes into her office for a session, nearly invisible. DUN DUN DUN. You will have course have seen it coming, because that’s how fiction works.
Despite being a class A jerk, Y___ is ultimately an extremely interesting character. He stole cloaking technology from the government in the form of a suit and a cream inspired by the Scramble Suits in A Scanner Darkly which makes him almost invisible. If you know where to look he is still vaguely visible. He uses this technology to sneak into people’s homes and watch them go about their day. He claims to be visiting Vicky in order to deal with the guilt that trying to help these people (and failing despite his best intentions) brings about. As a child, Y___ used to spy on people to learn who they really were. He believes that the only time people are truly themselves is when they are (or think they are) alone. Y___ is a pretty creepy guy. And it doesn’t help that we’re told, “He looks like an actor auditioning for the role of Ichabod Crane”. And not Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane.
The most interesting (and creepiest) parts of the novel are where Y___ describes the various people he watches and the habits they have. There is Valerie, a bing-eater, workout-aholic, and chronic weed smoker who has severe body image issues. There is a group of people meeting in a hotel because they have competition disorder. A pee-wee coach throws his star player impossible pitches so he strikes out and loses an important game was one example of this “disease”. It’s pretty much a room full of people trying to keep up with the Jones’. There are musician Dave and Zug who have what is constantly referred to as a “complicated relationship”. He watches a man spend all of his down time on the internet. Y___ invades their personal time and watches them for seemingly no reason except that he can. How creepy is that!?! Think of all the things you do alone and now imagine if you were doing them with someone basically invisible watching you THE WHOLE TIME. You feel so squicked out right now, don’t you? You will never scratch your butt in your empty house again!
His intelligence (and complete lack of social skills) come into play when he explores these people’s lives and tries to help them. It never works out to his advantage, but at least he tries. When Vicky hints at some sort of self-sabotage, Y___ tells her that, “Only fictional stories require an explanation. Only fictional stories can’t have accidents.” As in, everything in fiction happens for a reason, but in real life things can happen for no reason. And often do. Something CAN be an accident. In fiction, almost choking to death would be a catalyst for the entire novel (see The Name of the Star or Choke), but in real life it would just mean that I didn’t chew enough, or that I suck at eating food. No big revelation, just an event. Although if it helped me see ghosts/got me money that would be cool too.
-Who thinks of this insanely awesome premise? I LOVE YOU CHUCK KLOSTERMAN! ❤
-The way this was written as a manuscript to be submitted to publishers while a little gimmicky is super intriguing
-I loved reading about what people are like when their alone, their weird little ticks take a super imaginative mind to come up with
-That ending, oh man, no one is ready for that
-So short! This was barely 300 pages and it went by so quickly
An open note to Chuck Klosterman: keep writing, keep inventing ridiculous plots, keep referencing popular culture, and most importantly, keep me laughing. Don’t ever change. Except, when you write about sports. I could do with less sports.