What does it mean if you suddenly acquire the ability to become invisible? If you're the hapless, middle-aging hero of a...



What does it mean if you suddenly acquire the ability to become invisible? If you're the hapless, middle-aging hero of a Thomas Berger novel (a close relative, that is, of Carl Reinhart or Earl Keese in Neighbors), it probably means Not Much Fun at All: just one more opportunity to discover, in a low-key comic nightmare, that virtually everything in life turns disappointing and sour--even sci-fi miracles. Fred Wagner--would-be novelist, drone-like writer of catalogue copy, ever more a paunchy wreck since his wife left him--discovers one day that his feeling of being a failure, a nobody, isn't just metaphorical: he can make himself invisible, clothes and all. But poor Fred can't quite figure out how to use this astonishing gift. He can easily steal money, of course--but he worries too much about innocent people being blamed (bank tellers, etc.) to keep the money. He can eavesdrop on secret office liaisons--but his well-intentioned effort to make use of this scandalous knowledge just gets him fired. And attempts to launch invisible attacks on foul sculptor Zirko, the fashionable boor who is currently courting Fred's estranged, still-beloved wife Babe, are only semi-successful: there's some gloriously disastrous slapstick when invisible Fred tries to vandalize the anatomical self-portraits in Zirko's new exhibition. For about half the length of this new novel, then, the invisibility gimmick helps Berger to find fresh angles on many of his favorite, most distinctive comic materials: the hilariously impotent outrage of a well-meaning loser; the bitter social comedy, more timeless than trendy, that can arise from boring offices, inept civil-servants, pretentious restaurants, and phony artists. Later on, the book becomes more obviously shapeless and desperately episodic--as Fred has simultaneous affairs with two daunting females (one cheerfully insatiable widow, one maniacally mercurial virgin), unsuccessfully tries to share his secret powers with the medical establishment. . .and finally, unconvincingly, finds True Love. But, throughout, even when the storytelling slackens (or when sit-corn ghosts of Topper and Bewitched hover), Berger's unique tone and viewpoint--the elegantly ironic narration, barely concealing the sort of fiercely frank pessimism that is oddly uplifting--remain on steady display: the voice of a truly great, largely underrated comic writer.

Pub Date: April 15, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987

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