As a cultural journalist, Chuck Klosterman has proven almost as polarizing, mainly with older readers, as he is popular, mostly with post-baby boomers, particularly those more prone to embracing Kiss and hair bands than deifying the Beatles.
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Now that Klosterman’s turned his attention toward fiction, we called his second novel The Visible Man “a big leap” and “far more daring and ambitious than his debut novel (Downtown Owl, 2008).” It concerns the relationship between an Austin, Texas-based therapist and a patient who is either uniquely delusional, has a unique power, or both. The matter-of-fact revelations of the male patient make the female therapist question the underpinnings of her existence.
How do you see this as a progression or departure from your first novel?
I'd like to believe it's a progression, but I suppose everyone always believes they're progressing even if they're not. I guess it is a pretty radical departure from Downtown Owl, in the sense that it's technically science fiction. But I'm still the person who wrote it, so it will probably be more similar than different.
What, if any, is the connection between this novel and H.G. Wells classic The Invisible Man?
A few years ago I wanted to reread H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and the version of the novel I purchased also included The Invisible Man. I ended up rereading both of them, and I realized my memory of The Invisible Man was just completely different than what that novel actually is.
What suddenly seemed so funny was the degree to which the main character was this obnoxious, self-obsessed, unlikable jerk…So I started thinking about what kind of modern person would have both the ability and the desire to pursue the goal of invisibility, and about what kind of worldview would motivate someone to want that specific power. And for some reason, the idea of secretly observing strangers and the process of interviewing celebrities feels weirdly connected to me.
What's the attraction for you in writing fiction after establishing yourself as such a successful nonfiction writer?
I just like writing books. Fiction is harder than nonfiction certainly, but it's also more fun—I mean, you can literally do whatever you want and create a reality, and you can do that without the involvement of anyone else.
What's crazy is that you actually have to worry more about realism in fiction than you do in nonfiction. When I interview people as a journalist, insane things happen all the time—people say things that make no sense, people make major decisions that are devoid of motivation, people lie about things that everyone already knows to be true, etc. And readers readily accept that dissonance, because we all accept that the natural world is illogical.
Moments of insanity make nonfiction stories more interesting, and even more genuine. But people don't want fiction to be insane. We expect fiction to make sense, because nothing ruins a fictional narrative more than a failure in verisimilitude.
Why set the novel in Austin?
This is going to be a weird answer, but maybe if I explain it once I won't have to talk about it later. Obviously, I knew the book had to be set someplace. The last book was about North Dakota, so it couldn't be there. I also knew I didn't want to set it in New York. I'd lived for four years in Akron, so I briefly considered placing it in Ohio…but that didn't seem right either. And I've always been a little obsessed with Austin, even before I'd ever been to Texas.
My favorite movie of all-time is Slacker, and I used to really like an MTV show from the mid-’90s called Austin Stories. And then when I finally did visit Austin right around the time Fargo Rock City came out I totally loved it. It's become my favorite city in the country.
But the geographic location of this novel isn't that important anyway. There's nothing that happens in this book that could only happen in Austin. Most of this book is just a really long conversation between two weird people. I probably could have created a fake, composite city that would have worked just as well as Austin, but I decided to use a real city I liked.
Do you think your fiction and nonfiction share some qualities and attract a similar readership?
Yes. I think the people who hate my nonfiction probably hate my fiction even more.