Mark Twain meets the invisible man

Warning: These reviews may contain spoilers.

By Chris Delaney
Signal Book Critic

“Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume I”

I think there are quite a few people, especially students of literature, who relish in the thought of having a candid conversation with Mark Twain. As the distinct few who actually claim to posses such an ability are surely regulated to the cardboard boxes of an urban street corner and are not on the Today Show, what can we do?

A small concession would be “Volume I of the Uncensored Autobiography of Mark Twain.” The biography, which was dictated by Twain and written down by his secretary with the intent that it would not be published until one hundred years after his death, reads as if Twain is sitting on the other end of the couch. The events are not presented chronologically; instead, Twain uses stream of consciousness to describe things as they come into his head. Twain, trying to explain his technique writes, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself.”

The modernist style that Twain uses and describes is what I consider the most significant part of the biography because it makes him one of the earliest modernist writers.

Although Twain’s “Biography” is enjoyable, I must warn that readers should possess an appreciation of Twain; it is not a book to pick up on a whim. Also, you will probably need to be able to lift 10 pounds, as the book is rather large.

A man to observe others invisibly in ‘The Visible Man.’ (AP Photo / Scribner)

By Nick Elliot
Signal Book Critic

“The Visible Man”

It’s difficult not to raise your eyebrows in skepticism when reading the jacket blurb for Chuck Klosterman’s latest novel, The Visible Man. Victoria Vick is a therapist living in Austin, Texas. The novel is presented as a manuscript for a book she is writing of her experiences with a particular client, a man referred to as Y_. He informs Victoria he has stolen government technology for a cloaking mechanism with the ability to make man invisible.

Y_ uses the suit to watch people alone, following them into their homes to observe their behavior, because he strongly believes the invisible man is the man completely uninhibited by society. He conducts a scientific experiment in observing human behavior and concludes that individuals only reveal their true selves when uninfluenced by their surroundings. The invisible man’s life is the only life of value.

As his sessions with Victoria become more frequent, his relationship with her becomes increasingly uneasy. Y_ reveals several instances in which he has not only observed his subjects, but has also interfered with their lives (“The Valerie Sessions” are truly fascinating). Victoria, aware that Y_ needs serious help, is unable to end their sessions because Y_ has changed her perception of the world. She realizes Y_’s manipulation too late, and soon becomes the subject of one of his experiments.

The premise of “The Visible Man” at first appears outlandish, but the ideas are in fact refreshingly perceptive. Klosterman writes one of the most humorous, entertaining and intelligent novels I’ve ever read. He creates vivid and engaging characters in Victoria and Y_, and exposes society’s reliance on other people and material items to confirm their sense of reality. Through Y_, the novel represents one aspect of what we as readers love about reading — watching the lives of others unfold.