Alec's Reviews > The Visible Man

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
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's review
Nov 09, 2011

really liked it
Read in November, 2011

As a kid, I feel like it was protocol to have a stock answer chambered just in case someone (possibly a genie with Robin Williams' voice) asked you what your three wishes would be. Setting aside the inane "I'd wish for a million wishes!" response that always generated playground controversy, I vividly recall my official list of three wishes. It went as follows:

1. The ability to fly
2. The ability to turn invisible on command
3. The ability to eat leaves (and be nourished by them, I guess?)

In retrospect, the third wish is an embarrassing waste, but apparently the act of sitting unseen high in a tree while munching on scrumptious Oak leaves (full flavor in autumn) had huge appeal to young Alec. Weird. (Side note: even invisibility is a bit odd to me, since this would have been well before the "I'd sneak into the ladies locker room!" aspect would hold much, if any, appeal.)

Anyway, I bring this up because The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman is about a man who is able to, for all intents and purposes, become invisible to the naked eye. He is identified only as Y____ (names changed to protect the innocent and whatnot) and the narrative is written from the point of view of his therapist, Vicky. The book is basically a thought experiment (in classic Klosterman fashion) of what would happen if a certain kind of person was capable of going unseen and undetected by those around him.

I absolutely loved the premise, which should be no surprise given the above wish list. The idea of being "invisible" has obviously been around for quite some time in literature, but in this manifestation, all (well, almost all) predatory or sexual avenues are ignored and the situation is approached from a strictly voyeuristic and pseudo-scientific angle. I suppose this is, in a way, what reminded me of my childhood wishes -- might I have wanted the same things as Y____? Actually no, I think I just wanted to eat leaves in peace. Duh.

The subject matter also fit Klosterman's writing strengths perfectly. I have always been impressed (in both his writing and his work on the Simmons podcast) with his powers of objective observation as it pertains to the people around him, and when speaking as a man whose freedom to observe is limitless (Y_____'s dialogue is clearly written in Klosterman's voice), his observations are insightful and incredibly entertaining. I laughed out loud many times in the book at both the language and the absurdity of the situation. If anyone reads it, the "Heavy Dudes" section was especially fun.

The actual story-arc was much less interesting to me, and the only thing preventing The Visible Man from a 5-star rating. The "only" in that sentence seems very much out of place, but if you read the book, the story really does seem secondary. The characters (other than Y_____) did not interest me and I didn't find much of the action to be surprising; it didn't matter. It's almost like some publisher said, "Listen, Chuck, essays don't sell. Write a novel." So he wrote a novel that very much resembles a collection of essays squeezed into a narrative...but in, like, the best way possible. For any Klosterman fans out there, this is a must-read.

(Note: I'm embarrassed by the length of time since my last review. I blame television. Seriously. There are way too many good shows on right now...and I might or might not be referring to the fact that How I Met Your Mother is syndicated.)
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Jason I agree with your "working his essays into a novel idea". I thought the ending was predictable and would have liked more of Y___'s observation stories. I'll still recommend it,

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