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The Visible Man — Chuck Klosterman


Matt Carney July 18th, 2012

“What would you do if you couldn’t be seen?” is a question that preoccupies neither author Chuck Klosterman nor the genius misanthrope Y____, the subject of the writer’s second novel, The Visible Man.

While both are after larger, more unsettling truths that don’t readily make for such conventional fiction, Visible Man remains pretty compelling stuff, largely thanks to Klosterman’s incisive, humorous prose and his pointed criticisms on human social behavior in a heavily mediated age.

The book’s plot hinges on a Philip K. Dick-type premise, with the evermeta Klosterman acknowledging the cult sci-fi writer by name, of course: Y____, an unlikeable savant, has engineered a special suit that renders him practically unseen.

His intent? To observe people in solitude, after experiencing a revelation watching a teenage boy pretend to be Geddy Lee in a bedroom performance of the Rush album 2112.

Those looking for a story about a superhero’s investment in a confidant ought not to waste their money or time: “The thought never occurred to me,” Y____ tells Victoria Vick, a psychiatrist in Austin, Texas, when she asks whether he ever considered becoming a gallivanting vigilante.

Instead, Vick narrates exchanges with Y____ in Klosterman’s typically clinical tone, a detached register that’s peppered with self-argument and low-culture allusions typical of his earlier pop-culture manifestos, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Chuck Klosterman IV; and especially Eating the Dinosaur.

Your enjoyment of Visible Man is inextricably linked to your receptiveness to the writer’s prose style, which is practically uniform across his works.

The end product is a realistic novel with a sci-fi premise and several David Foster Wallace-isms (the Q-and-A device used in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and footnotes) constructed to examine much of the territory explored in Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur: pop culture.

Credit: Kris Drake

It feels more like an exercise than a true-to-form work of fiction (the book’s initial atmospheric foreboding eventually evaporates and the plot climax leaves much to be desired), but it also fails to qualify as experimental in that most of its more challenging elements seem cribbed from elsewhere.

Klosterman’s proven himself an able, compelling critic, and when he swings with his prose, he often smacks it out of the park. Most pressing are Y____’s anecdotes about the people he observes and the ethical and emotional ramifications of his tampering with their lives.

And every time you think Klosterman might be too much like Y____ — too cold and penetrating to be liked — his good humor and sharp cultural allusions reward your reading efforts.

 
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