New York Times bestselling author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Downtown Owl, “the Ethicist” of the New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman returns to fiction with his second novel—an imaginative page-turner about a therapist and her unusual patient, a man who can render himself invisible.
Therapist Victoria Vick is contacted by a cryptic, unlikable man who insists his situation is unique and unfathomable. As he slowly reveals himself, Vick becomes convinced that he suffers from a complex set of delusions: Y__, as she refers to him, claims to be a scientist who has stolen cloaking technology from an aborted government project in order to render himself nearly invisible. He says he uses this ability to observe random individuals within their daily lives, usually when they are alone and vulnerable. Unsure of his motives or honesty, Vick becomes obsessed with her patient and the disclosure of his increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. Over time, it threatens her career, her marriage, and her own identity.
Interspersed with notes, correspondence, and transcriptions that catalog a relationship based on curiosity and fear, The Visible Man touches on all of Chuck Klosterman’s favorite themes—the consequence of culture, the influence of media, the complexity of voyeurism, and the existential contradiction of normalcy. Is this comedy, criticism, or horror? Not even Y__ seems to know for sure.
Crosby Bumpus Simon & Schuster 1230 Ave. of the Americas 11th Floor New York, NY 10020-1586
Well, here it is. I never thought I’d type that sentence, but now I have!
This is such a bizarre sensation, Crosby. I have no idea how you’re going to react to what’s here, but I’m exhilarated, terrified, and mentally prepared for whatever is supposed to happen next. Let me reiterate (one last time) how flattered I am by your dogged interest in this project and how grateful I am for your limitless reserve of support, despite the apprehensions of your publishing house, your co-workers, your new boyfriend (!), and every other rational person in your life. If this really works out, it will be a testament to your vision and spirit.
I know we’ve had this discussion dozens of times over the telephone, but I need to say it once more, just to satisfy my own conscience: I am not a writer. I have no further ambitions in this regard, and this is the only manuscript I’ll ever submit to a publisher. I also need to stress (because there seems to be some confusion over this, at least with your assistant and with the woman I spoke with from your publicity department) that I am not a psychiatrist, even though I’ll undoubtedly be described as such if this manuscript is ever received by the world at large. I have not attended medical school and I’m not in a position to prescribe medication. It’s important we’re all clear on this point, because I don’t want to mislead anyone. I received a masters degree in social work from the Univ. of Texas after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology from Davidson College in North Carolina. I do not have a Ph.D. I’ve been a licensed therapist and analyst for exactly twenty-one years, but my roster of clients is small (no more than twelve patients in any given week) and has never included anyone of public interest, sans the lone individual I will describe in the enclosed file. I’m sure my professional credentials will be savaged, but—if that has to happen—I want them to be savaged for the proper reasons.
Is this manuscript ready for publication? I think we both agree it is not (nor does my agent). I have no idea how the fact-checking process works in your industry, but I cannot fathom any system that would accept the majority of this text on face value. Like I said in our very first conversation: I can’t verify the story I’m trying to tell. All I have are the tapes (which prove nothing) and one photograph of a seemingly empty chair. How will this not be a marketing disaster? I know you’re strongly against recasting this work as fiction (and my agent has already informed me that such a switch would force a reworking of the contract’s language and a substantial decrease in the amount of my advance), but I don’t see any other option. Obviously, you understand the publishing game more than I do, and I trust your judgment completely. Perhaps we should revisit this conversation when you’ve finished reading my draft.
Five annotations regarding the structure of this manuscript:
(A.) After my second phone conversation with the Scribner lawyer in June, I’ve elected to use the pseudonym “Y____” in place of the patient’s name or his actual initials. I now understand why using a fabricated name might create more problems than it solves. I initially used a different letter as a placeholder (first “V,” then “K,” then “M”), but my agent explained how those specific letters might cause their own unique dilemmas. I’m still open to your thoughts on this, assuming you have any.
(B.) During the very early phases of my relationship with Y____ (and particularly during the initial few weeks when we interacted exclusively by telephone), I took almost no notes whatsoever. Why would I? At the time, the case did not seem abnormal. The only things I wrote about Y____ were for my own rudimentary record-keeping, primarily so I could reference whatever we’d last discussed at the opening of our next session. These notes were brief e-mails I sent to myself, so please excuse the sentence fragments and incomplete thoughts (I’ve tried to fix misspellings and abbreviations, but I have not altered the language or syntax). Obviously, I had no way of knowing how unusual this situation would become. Hindsight being 20/20, I realize I should have asked him more pointed, expository questions about what was really happening here, but—keep in mind—it wasn’t an interrogation. My intention was to help this person, so I allowed him to dictate the flow of conversation. So how should we handle this? My solution (at least for the time being) was to just print and attach those six self-addressed e-mails for your consideration. The e-mails are included in what’s currently labeled as Part I: The Telephone. Should I try to turn that content into conventional prose, or should I exclude them completely? They’re difficult to read and a little embarrassing, but I think some of the details are critical.
(C.) Once I became aware of my scenario’s actuality, I started recording everything Y____ said during our sessions on audiotape (with his permission and at his urging). Much of this manuscript is a transcript of Y____’s unedited dialogue, augmented by my periodic queries and my (mostly unsuccessful) attempts at steering the conversation toward a reasonable resolution. It should go without saying that Y____ was among the most intelligent, most articulate patients of my career. His ability to speak in complete thoughts and full paragraphs was astounding, often to the point of pretension and almost to the level of discomfort; I will always, always wonder if Y____ had rehearsed and memorized large sections of what he said during our sessions. It’s my suspicion that Y____ (consciously or unconsciously) long believed I would eventually publish the details of our work together and felt an overwhelming desire to be as entertaining and narrative as possible. He was never able to accept the concept of therapy for his own sake. Granted, that troubling view made the compilation of this manuscript extremely easy—much of the time, I simply had to type a transcript of whatever Y____ had said in its raw form. But this chasm between the clarity of Y____’s words and his stark inability to understand his own motives inevitably undermined whatever progress we seemed to make. From a purely therapeutic perspective, I can only classify my work with Y____ as a failure. I wonder if we need to make this clearer to the reader?
(D.) The only other person who has read this manuscript is my husband, John (who, by the way, is doing much, much better and wanted me to thank you for sending us that wonderful book about Huey Long). He mentioned one potential problem: John believes Y____’s behavior and personality is too inconsistent, and that my portrayal of him generates (what he refers to, possibly incorrectly, as) “the pathetic fallacy.” I suppose I see what he means, even though it didn’t feel that way at the time. But if John sees this dissonance, other readers will see it, too. So how do I justify these contradictions? How do I overcome the fact that real people inevitably behave more erratically than fictional constructions? It’s important to remember that—despite his rarefied intelligence and intermittent charm—Y____ was/is a deeply troubled individual without any sense of self, an almost total lack of empathy, and a paradoxical confusion over the most fundamental aspects of human behavior. I suppose it’s no accident that he was seeing a therapist. Here again, I wonder if fictionalizing this story might be the best solution. Perhaps he would seem more believable if we made him more predictable?
(E.) Assuming this manuscript eventually becomes a purchasable book, there are a handful of private citizens who will see themselves in the text, sometimes in embarrassing contexts. I feel terrible about this, but there’s just no way around it. I believe this work is important, and cultural importance often comes with casualties. It has to be done. I also believe the inclusion of those specific anecdotes will be critical to the commercial value of the book, and (as I explained in one of our early e-mails) that’s something I don’t necessarily want but very desperately need. It’s humiliating to admit that, but you know my situation. So if this must be done, let’s at least try to show these poor people the respect they merit. I deserve my humiliation, but they do not.
I think that’s everything. Sorry this cover letter ended up being so long. Please call or e-mail when you receive this package, Crosby. I can’t wait to work with you. Also, I’m curious—does your reception of this manuscript constitute its “acceptance,” or does that not occur until you’ve finished reading and editing? I only ask because our contract states that 25 percent of my agreed advance will be delivered “on acceptance,” and my agent can’t (or won’t) seem to give me a firm date as to when that will happen. I hate to keep bringing this up, because I know it’s not really your department. But—like I said before—you know my situation.
Join our mailing list!
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
This reading group guide forVisible Manincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
When therapist Victoria Vick initially assesses her new patient, whom she refers to as “Y_”, she believes that he suffers from a complex set of delusions, revealed to her through his cryptic, capricious behavior. Patient Y_ soon proves to be a truly special case, however, when he confronts her with the unimaginable. A scientist who has been using cloaking technology from an aborted government project to render himself nearly invisible, Y_ uses this ability to observe individuals in their daily lives, usually while they are otherwise alone. Ultimately, Victoria becomes obsessed with her patient and his disclosure of increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. As a result, Victoria’s interactions with Y_ threaten her career, her marriage, and her well-being. The Visible Man is narrated with a series of notes, correspondence, and transcriptions that catalog a relationship based on uncertainty, curiosity, and fear. The novel explores everything from the influence of media and pop culture, to the implications of science, to issues of voyeurism, normalcy, and reality. You’ll think a lot harder about what you do when you're alone and what it says about who you are. That, and whether or not you're alone at all.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do you think Victoria has chosen “Y_” for her patient’s pseudonym? Moreover, what “unique dilemmas” would the other initials that she considered using – V, K, or M – have caused?
2. In Victoria’s cover letter to her agent, she asks in her fourth annotation, “How do I overcome the fact that real people inevitably behave more erratically than fictional constructions?” Do you agree with this suggestion? What behavior among real people have you encountered that would be unbelievable if portrayed as fiction? Who or what defines “normal” behavior?
3. Y_ claims to be seeking Victoria’s help so that he can learn to manage his “sensations of guilt.” Do you believe this is truly why he solicits Victoria’s professional evaluation and guidance? Is he in fact seeking her professional guidance? Do you agree with Y_ in his assertion that feeling the sensation of guilt and feeling guilty are actually two different experiences?
4. The Beatles are mentioned throughout The Visible Man. What impact do these references have on the story? In terms of the Beatles themselves or the themes that exist in their music, why do you think Klosterman chose them as his primary music and pop culture reference?
5. What similarities exist among the characters that Y_ observes? Are any of these characters particularly sympathetic or unsympathetic? Why?
6. Is Y_’s pursuit to observe and monitor the behavior of people who are alone a worthy one? Do you believe, as he consistently reminds Victoria, that his endeavor is scientific? What has Y_ gleaned from his observations? Does he learn more about other people or himself?
7. Y_ asserts that his ventures are not driven by voyeurism. Given the direction his relationship with Victoria takes, do you believe this claim? Why do you think people might derive pleasure not just specifically through the act of voyeurism but through observing people in general?
8. Why does the revelation of Y_’s invisibility suit become such a turning point in his and Victoria’s relationship? Why does Victoria then become so all-consumed by her interaction with Y_? Does she fall in love with him? If so, why?
9. Under what circumstances is Y_ compelled to make attempts to help his subjects? What does this reveal about his character? Are these efforts consistent with the other characteristics or behavior that Y_ displays?
10. The Visible Man is told from Victoria’s perspective. She frequently offers the caveat that she did not record her sessions with Y_ and recounts much from memory. Is she a reliable narrator? What impact does the telling of the story through a character’s manuscript have on you as the reader?
11. The Visible Man explores the assumption that you are your true self only when you’re alone. Discuss with the group whether or not you agree with this notion.
12. Discuss the title of the book. What is the significance of “Visible” as opposed to “Invisible”?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. If you had the ability to become invisible, what would you do? Use this question to learn more about your fellow book club members and to test how much you think you know about them. Write your answer to this question on a scrap of paper. Collect the answers in a hat and draw each one at a time. Take turns guessing the owner of the answer and repeat until all answers have been revealed.
2. Read H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man as a companion text. What prominent themes or motifs exist in both novels? Do you think The Visible Man a modernized retelling of Wells’ novel?
3. If you have read any of Klosterman's previous nonfiction books, which include Fargo Rock City, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Killing Yourself to Live, and Chuck Klosterman IV, how do they compare to this novel?
Chuck Klosterman is the bestselling author of many books of nonfiction (including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, I Wear the Black Hat, Fargo Rock City and Chuck Klosterman X) and two novels (Downtown Owl and The Visible Man). He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Guardian, The Believer,Billboard, The A.V. Club, and ESPN. Klosterman served as the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine for three years, and was an original founder of the website Grantland with Bill Simmons.
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
More books from this author: Chuck Klosterman
Thank you for signing up, fellow book lover!
Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love.