Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reading Rainbow: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

I wanted him to keep talking, even though the conversation was one-sided and pedantic. I know that must sound masochistic, but there's no influence like the force of personality: It overwhelms everything, even when it defies common sense. [pg. 138]
While hesitant to ascribe the label of pedant to Klosterman, there may not be a passage that better encapsulates his authorial pull than the one above. He does have a force of personality that draws the interest of the like-minded. I suppose there is an element of this in most people that we find ourselves drawn to in our daily lives. With Klosterman, though, this draw is undeniable.

In The Visible Man, Klosterman has constructed a platform to explore one of his central areas of concern: voyeurism. Set in an alternate universe Austin that had fallen under the tentacled grip of the Minneapolitan Caribou Coffee chain*, the story primarily deals with a therapist and a patient who have an extraordinary relationship with one another. The patient is a scientist who developed a suit that allows him to cloak himself, which he employs to study the true nature of the self, using unwitting people as his test subjects. Steamrolling the therapist, through whose eyes the narrative is told, Y___ attempts to reconcile his feelings of guilt with the belief that the greater thrust of his project is much too important to be dragged down by such ethical dilemmas as invasion of privacy.

*I am sort of joking here. Yes, the Caribou chain has never made its way to Austin. The setting is sort of immaterial, and the rest of the Austin settings are pretty on point with the possible exception of embellishing a patchouli smell at Waterloo Records, which is at least excusable. These things will not matter to most readers. Hell, many Austinites may not even know that Caribou is a chain and could have assumed that Klosterman invented a coffee shop out of thin air. Again, not an issue.

What unfolds between Victoria and Y___ is undoubtedly compelling and does raise interesting questions in regards to the true self, voyeurism, and the value of the experiment versus the costs involved. Klosterman's prose is, as always, engrossing. While dealing with occasionally philosophically complex subject matter, it never veers into the realm of being inaccessible. Really, it is quite shocking that a book with two main characters who are each at least in part unlikeable that is also dealing with loaded philosophical ideas can still come down in a moral gray area while still being incredibly entertaining. Klosterman definitely has an innate ability to tackle these notions while maintaining an irresistible style and verve.

2 comments:

The Pluto Planet Debate said...

Sorry, dude. This whole Caribou Coffee situation is a Lake-Wissota-in-Titanic deal breaker for me.

Josh "Old Man" Duggan said...

Fair enough.

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