Friday, June 15, 2012

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (book)

Reviewed by DionysusPsyche

This is the sixth book of Chuck Klosterman's I've read (there are seven), and his second published novel. Klosterman has been on the writing staff of SPIN, The New York Times, and ESPN to name a few.

Klosterman's idea for the book came from research he was doing on his last book Eating the Dinosaur, and he read The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Being first and foremost a journalist, Klosterman writes some (though not certainly all) of the novel in interview form. Everything is from the viewpoint of Victoria Vick, so we never get a full look at the mind of Y_____, although personally, I am okay with this.

Primary Characters
Victoria Vick is a therapist living in Austin, TX who receives a call from a stranger. From there, her life takes a turn for the bizarre as she takes him on as a patient. The patient is referred to by Vick as Y_______, a subject who has the technology at his fingertips to be invisible to those around him. Believing him to be an extremely troubled individual, Vick agrees to counsel him as she would any other person in need of help. Yet, Y_____'s professional relationship with Vick defies the bounds of normal patient/therapist relationships from the beginning and continues into an even odder world.

Y______'s character is self assured, highly intelligent, and cunning. And how could he not be considering he has a superhero like quality that is admired at the very least by every teenage male. He speaks of his invisibility process and the work he does while he's invisible. This project seems entirely self-fueled, although Y_____ claims he used to work for the government. He speaks of his own subjects which he observes through his cloaking device. Given he is in a safe zone for speech, he judges people aloud to his therapist. Stubborn and insistent, he can be sardonic and abusive towards his therapist, verbally. He takes advantage of the fact that he can be unseen by those around him. Although, that part of the book does work to our protagonist's advantage, Y____'s questionable moral ground for a project could easily be regarded as the worst form of human observation.

The weird thing about Vick is that she does see through his odd tales, his choice of how he spends his days, his type of selection, and the manner in which he tells his stories. Victoria Vick, in nearly every way, is the opposite of Y_____. She's a woman who cares about the emotions of her patients, and she is insecure both in her career and personal life. The type of personality that would agree to such terms would be in keeping with her character. This was actually the one thing I liked least about the novel was Vick's inability to properly perform her duties as a therapist. At every turn she is in violation of certain aspects of psychology which would make her effective in changing Y_____'s behavior. However, despite my personal issues with aspects of the story, it does stay in keeping with the characters most of the time.

The author has always been a fan of the question "what is reality?" This is a specifically enticing query when covering ground of science fiction and psychological thrillers. I wouldn't call this the latter--it does skim the idea of psychology but it's more sociological than anything. Culturally, we as a society are always asking ourselves about the pros and cons of technology. Should we be "getting back to nature?" Are computers and cell phones a hindrance or a leg up?

In that way the book was disappointing. About 3/4 of the way through the book, Y_____ describes a situation that takes place. That chunk of story reels one in, and the imagination runs wild wondering where the book could go, ways it could become interesting, and take on a new dimension. It didn't go where I hoped it would, yet it didn't leave me angry. I understand that the author didn't want to be predictable, but I was really hoping for a crazier approach (i.e. Ender's Game or Shutter Island) and on that front, I didn't feel like the book delivered.

Y_____'s character also brings up a topic that is important: being alone. How one can feel completely alone in a group of people or completely at ease by oneself. Who is our authentic self and what is the truest form of self? We are most certainly happiest when we are with our closest friends/family unless there is a perforation or a lack of genuineness in those relationships, and Klosterman discusses that as well.

It also touches on the topic of abuse. Whether or not someone is abusing themselves and what rights one has as an outsider to interfere in such matters. Does doing this make these things better or worse? For whom? Y_____ talks about several different subjects he encounters who are taking abuse, one from herself, the other from a friend. Vick herself takes abuse from Y_____ and develops an unnerving fascination on a potentially dangerous person who she, who quite literally sees him better than anyone else, views as not dangerous!

I did finish the book--something I can't say for most books--and although there were lulls from time to time, Klosterman's general style of writing is good about keeping the audience entertained for more than half the time which is more than I can say for most fictional works. He even comments (true to his former publications) about the reason that people enjoy television so much is that it makes them feel involved and invested in the characters. While I didn't feel tied to either character and didn't identify with any of the characters in the book to any substantive point, I did stay in it for curiosity's sake. It's possible that if I wasn't already a fan of Klosterman, I may not have finished, although I didn't finish one of his other works, and found myself beyond bored and quit the book not even halfway through (now having read this, I may try it again). The book has renewed some of my faith in his writing dashed by Eating the Dinosaur although another fan of the author that I know disagrees with me since he enjoyed E. the D. The Visible Man was about average, maybe slightly better than average--as with his other books, I could either skip a chapter as it encompassed one complete essay or was so like others that I didn't feel I'd miss anything. I didn't skip over any parts of this novel though, which may make it the first Klosterman novel I've read all the way through.

The writer's style has changed over time, but I will have to review his other novels before I can say more about it in depth. I will say that Klosterman's branching out in this novel provided some uncharted territory for him, and I am guardedly interested in any future works he has.

The Visible Man does not have the broad appeal of some of Klosterman's other novels, and of his fictional works, I prefer Downtown Owl. However, I did enjoy the book for what I got out of it, and may at some point read it in the future, although it will not be listed on my "highly recommended" works section.


  1. I found your review quite interesting and it did actually get me intrigued in getting a hold of this book. However, I was a bit puzzled in how you describe it. Most of this review, you seem quite intrigued in the questions and topics that the book raises and focuses on, and the other part of the time you're saying how this book was average and disappointing from where you expected it to be.

    Is it that it was conceptually interesting but your failure to completely connect with the characters just made it a curiosity more so than an awesome ride?

  2. Yeah, in comparison with his other books and what I anticipated the book to be, it just didn't add up to very much.