In a bit of a cunt move, I previously chastised Chuck Klosterman in an article about his last book, Eating the Dinosaur, a collection of, let's be honest, lackluster essays the author released in 2009. However, with Klosterman's latest fiction novel, The Visible Man, all of my faith in and admiration for this man has been renewed.
Klosterman's greatest skill when it comes to fiction is holding true to a running motif throughout the entirety of the book. In The Visible Man's case, the theme is that no one can ever truly be himself unless he is alone, without the presence of others' judgment to influence how he acts. Set in Austin, Texas and told from the perspective of therapist Victoria Vick, we are introduced to the unusual psychosis of a patient who she refers to only as Y___. Clearly an intelligent and shrewd man from the outset, Y___ specifically requests phone-only discussions with Victoria wherein he talks and she simply listens. At first, Victoria feels like this is an easy enough request, but as Y___ starts to go more in depth about the reasons behind his need for therapy, Victoria realizes Y___ has a more sinister nature than she originally thought.
As their sessions progress, Y___ informs Victoria that he invented a special suit and cream that allows him to be cloaked in front of other people. His motive for inventing this suit, he explains, is to observe individuals as they truly are--because we never act like our genuine self when there are other people around to witness how absurd our behavior really is. In conducting this experiment, Y___ concludes that:
"My view has always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted. What I came to realize is that 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. This, I think, explains the fundamental urge to get married and have kids, or even just the need to feel popular and respected. We're self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we're not doing anything valuable or interesting. I'm sure this started in the 1970s."
Initially prone to thinking Y___ is delusional, Victoria loses all sense of psychological protocol once she discovers that Y___ is telling the truth about the suit. Suddenly, all of her other patients seem dull and inconsequential to her. She becomes consumed with Y___'s escapades as he spies on everyone from a marijuana/exercise-obsessed (note the dichotomy) young woman to a roadie he claims to have accidentally imprisoned to an old man who talks to himself. Y___ examines people from all walks of life, his sole concern being that they are people with no family and no one to influence how they will behave in his midst.
Klosterman shows us through the lens of Y___'s character how hopelessly dependent we are on the opinions and validations of our friends and acquaintances, expounding:
"People trust their friends more than they trust themselves. That was something I established straight away. And you'd think that would make them feel more secure, but it doesn't. It has the opposite effect: Unconditional trust destroys relationships. Two people meet as open-minded strangers. They like each other, so they grow closer. It feels good. They become unguarded. Eventually, the two strangers become two friends. But once that boundary of distrust is removed from the equation, they start to learn who the other person really is, and then each starts to resent the other. They end up feeling more distant as friends than they were as strangers."
Victoria begins to take all of his poignant truths as gospel, in a rapport that at times feels reminiscent of the soap operatic, yet tongue in cheek tone of Augusten Burroughs' Sellevision. Eventually though, Victoria comes out from under his spell, albeit not without a few physical and emotional scars.