Chuck Klosterman IV is a guy who could give you the best-ever stranger-at-the-bar conversation. He knows pop culture as well as Rosie Perez knows fruits that begin with the letter Q. Klosterman's latest book, A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, combines a mastery of '80's arcania with a sarcastic worldview that's all too aware that such mastery ultimately doesn't amount to much.
Known primarily as a columnist for Esquire, Klosterman has also written for SPIN and Dave Eggers' literary journal The Believer. Two of Decade's three parts are collections of columns from these and other publications, including a couple from his early days with the Akron Beacon Journal.
The first, "Things That Are True," showcases Klosterman's bread and butter: profiles and trend-watching. Insightful, funny and revealing interviews with Billy Joel, Radiohead and Val Kilmer stand out, as does a piece on Steve Nash that likens his brand of basketball to socialism's mantra of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
Klosterman also has an ability to spot recessed trends, like Mexican teens in California who have adopted Morrissey as their musical hero and female hard-rock tribute bands (AC/DShe and Zepparella are rivals in the scene). This isn't heavy reading, but Klosterman finds hidden angles with his subjects and almost exploits them. You can tell he's smart, and has an enthusiasm for what he writes, which is refreshing in the hipper-than-thou milieu in which he operates.
Part Two, "Things That Might Be True," collects a group of Klosterman's theories, several of which look specifically at American culture how pirates have become universally loved despite their despicable practices, and our nation's need to be liked by other countries (he blames Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years).
Decade would have been a stronger book had it stopped there. Unfortunately, the last part, "Something That Isn't True at All," is a short story that's equal parts banal and disturbing (and yes, that is possible).
The gist is that an Akron movie reviewer's days are spent smoking PCP before work, eating lunch at Chinese buffets and letting his borderline-anorexic semi-girlfriend get him off while drunk at night. That's the banal part there's hundreds of dudes living that life in metro Detroit alone. Thousands if you insert the word "pot" for "PCP."
The climax involves a dead chick falling out of the sky and landing on the hood of his car while driving to pick up a friend's hot stripper sister from work. (Of course!) The protagonist becomes weirdly turned on by the dead girl, and the story ends with this sentence: "I lie awake for five hours, pretending she just fell next to me." If that is banal, then I'm seriously scared of the opposite sex.
Kelli B. Kavanaugh is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].