THE VISIBLE MAN by Chuck Klosterman

Book Quote:

“Don’t overthink what’s happening here, Vicky. I am not a swamp monster, Vicky. I’m not an invisible man. I’m not a vampire, and I’m not God. I’m just an incredibly interesting person.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte (OCT 6, 2011)

It was more than one hundred years ago that H. G. Wells penned the science fiction classic, The Invisible Man, which subsequently paved new paths in the horror genre. The idea of a mad scientist who makes himself invisible and becomes mentally deranged as a result, is one that has taken root in popular culture ever since.

In his genre-bending new novel, Chuck Klosterman borrows the essential elements from Wells’ classic with some modifications. For one thing, he fixes the science. There has been some discussion that a truly invisible man would have been blind whereas Wells’ lead character, Griffin, clearly was not. So Klosterman’s protagonist, referred to simply as Y_, is not invisible — he is the visible man. But Y_ , much like Griffin, has an ability to make himself invisible to others.

At the novel’s outset, Y_ calls a therapist Victoria Vick and sets out some pretty elaborate conditions for his therapy sessions: she will ask no questions, meetings will be only over the phone, no forms will be filled out and payments will be sent by cash. “I came to you so I could manage the guilt I don’t deserve to have,” Y_ tells her.

Not sure what to make of the situation, Vicky tentatively agrees. So begins a series of sessions during which Vicky finds out that Y_ is a scientist who has developed technology that can make him invisible. Y_ once worked for the NSA in Chaminade, Hawaii, creating a special “cloaking” device—a membranous suit which when slathered with a special cream can make anyone invisible to others.

Y_, who has always been obsessed with trying to figure out what really makes people tick, uses this device to make himself invisible and spy on all kinds of people. He slips into their homes and watches the minutiae of everyday life — an extreme form of voyeurism. Quite psychotic, Y_ never suspects this could be a problem but instead justifies his activities as essential to his understanding of the human spirit. “How was I supposed to relate to these people if I didn’t even know what they were really like or who they really were?” he asks, “I knew how they acted, but that’s not the same thing.”

The Visible Man is written in an interesting format; it is narrated by Vicky and laid out mostly as a collection of reports from each therapy session. This format allows the reader to not only peek into Y_’s bizarre temperament but it also lets us see Vicky’s increasingly impaired judgment as she lets Y_ continually break traditional patient-therapist rules.

Over the weeks, as Y_ keeps up with his stories Vicky finds herself spellbound. Her normal life is disrupted and she gets pulled into an elaborate web that Y_ weaves. “To this day, whenever I slipped into boredom, I find myself fantasizing and reimagining the stories he told me,” Vicky remembers.

As the novel moves along, The Visible Man gets incrementally creepy until the very end. Klosterman, whose Downtown Owl was a gem, does a great job of using science fiction as a frame against which to pin a very contemporary story. It is to Klosterman’s credit that the idea of a delusional man creating a suit and cream that would make him invisible, doesn’t seem extremely far-fetched.

Even more fascinating is the fact that the readers too will come to find much of interest in Y_’s subjects’ lives. By boiling down life to its very essence — to the level of mere existence — Klosterman does a wonderful job in pointing out what matters to most of us. “I learned that people don’t consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from,” Y_ says, quite observantly.

“People need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they’re doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don’t count. We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting,” Klosterman writes. If that is not a mirror held up to contemporary society, I don’t know what is.

The Visible Man sometimes gets too caught up in its own ingeniousness and the story strains under the weight of the novel’s structural construct. The letters, the bullet points, they start to seem restrictive after a while.

Nevertheless, The Visible Man eventually proves to be a worthy follow-up to the fantastic Downtown Owl. It is creepy precisely because the story is just ever so plausible. When gawking through Twitter and Facebook is possible, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to have an invisible man checking you out during your most intimate and mundane moments. You’ll be sure to look over your shoulder more than once.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 66 readers
PUBLISHER: Scribner (October 4, 2011)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Chuck Klosterman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt



October 6, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Scifi, Texas

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