Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison
This literary masterpiece and I first crossed paths during my freshman year of college, when I was timidly venturing into mid- and late-20th century American literature. Austen, Dickens, Twain, Melville- they all needed to cool their heels a little while I checked out some of the other books that had been demanding my attention.
WELL. I had never heard of Ralph Ellison or this book before, and of course, I made the usual mistake of thinking "Invisible Man"? Wait, that's the H. G. Wells book, right? NO INDEED! The Wells book includes the article "The" in the title, while Ellison's doesn't. I could speculate as to all the possible litero-philosophical reasons for this, but I shall spare you that. Because I care about my readers. But I digress...
After three readings (so far), I can safely say that this novel is one of the best American novels ever written. Ever. In the history of American novels. Period. Invisible Man explores the intellectual and social issues facing African Americans in the 20th century: the black experience and the Communist Party, black nationalism, and the place of the black artist in America. And at its core, it is a story of profound disillusionment, and I use that word purposefully. The unnamed protagonist moves through life with the scales falling from his eyes, if you will, at every turn. With each new experience, and each new set of people, his disillusionment deepens: friends are often enemies, what looks real is often fake, nothing is permanent. And yet, each of these revelations sets him free, until he becomes "invisible," able to see all without being seen by any.
Hey, just let the book do the convincing. All you have to do is make it far enough into Invisible Man to the place where the protagonist opens the first letter from Dr. Bledsoe. I get shivers up and down my spine each time I read that part. Wooooooo boy. Go out and grab this book.