The proper subject of smack talk is what's cool, what's not cool and why. But if intellectuals such as Thomas Frank or David Brooks cover this same turf like electric weed-whackers, Klosterman is a lawn-tractor with flames painted on the hood. He's the maddeningly smart and funny armchair critic from North Dakota who's right 90 percent of the time -- and the other 10 percent of the time, he's just so lunatic that the funny bone preempts the thinking bone.
There's a lot more cold cereal than sex or drugs in Klosterman's nostalgic, patchy collection of pop cultural essays, which, despite sparks of brilliance, fails to cohere. Having graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1994, Klosterman (Fargo Rock City) seems never to have left that time or place behind. He is an ironically self-aware, trivia-theorizing, unreconstructed slacker: "I'm a `Gen Xer,' okay? And I buy shit marketed to `Gen Xers.' And I use air quotes when I talk.... Get over it." The essay topics speak for themselves: the Sims, The Real World, Say Anything, Pamela Anderson, Billy Joel, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry, etc. The closest Klosterman gets to the 21st century is Internet porn and the Dixie Chicks. This is a shame, because he's is a skilled prose stylist with a witty, twisted brain, a photo-perfect memory for entertainment trivia and has real chops as a memoirist. The book's best moments arrive when he eschews argumentation for personal history. In "George Will vs. Nick Hornby," a tired screed against soccer suddenly comes to life when Klosterman tells the story of how he was fired from his high school summer job as a Little League baseball coach. The mothers wanted their sons to have equal playing time; Klosterman wanted "a run-manufacturing offensive philosophy modeled after Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals." In a chapter on relationships, Klosterman semi-jokes that he only has "three and a half dates worth of material." Remove all the dated pop culture analyses, and Klosterman's book has enough material for about half a really great memoir. Agent, Daniel Greenberg. (Aug. 26) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Cultural arguments for people fascinated by the implications of their sugar-cereal dependencies. Spin magazine senior writer Klosterman (Fargo Rock City, 2001) prefers to "figure out what it means to be alive," he explains, in the context of "Pamela Anderson and The Real World and Frosted Flakes." Generally speaking, his m.o. is to explore what a "trivial" or purportedly overlooked mass-cultural element tells us about the presumably insight-hobbled greater American populace (e.g., that racial or cultural differences as exploited in popular media can be clarified via the eternal Lakers-Celtics debate). It's a strategy reminiscent of Joe Queenan's superior Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (1998), although Klosterman's shrill advocacy of junk culture lies closer to Quentin Tarantino's. The author is certainly democratic in his obsessions, yet they all tend toward lowest common denominators: many of his long argumentative riffs, such as those regarding John Cusack's appeal, the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee video, the enduring celebrity cult around serial killers like J.W. Gacy, and the righteousness of Reality Bites and the Gen-X stereotype, seem dated and unprovocative. The occasional piece rises above this minor-key white noise: a sharp, affecting portrait of life on the road with a Guns 'n' Roses cover band (written for the New York Times Magazine); a provocative exploration of how the befuddling world of online porn actually serves as metaphor for the Internet's promise generally; and a genuinely cynical chapter on media realities that reads like Muckraker Lite. Klosterman's literary strength seemingly lies in an ability to salvage discussion of the genuinely trivial via anoften charming, ramshackle voice; yet elsewhere, he takes tedious, unconvincing swipes at the usual array of "elite" cultural tropes, including Seattle's Experience Music Project, punk rock, indie rock, rock journalists, Björk, "postmodern" writers like poet Robert Pinsky, Lucinda Williams, alt-country, and so forth. He seems unaware that Jim Goad, Donna Gaines, and Ian Christe have already beaten the ersatz-populism thing to death. Humorous, slick, aggressively forgettable. Agent: Daniel Greenberg/Levine Greenberg
Gary Shteyngart author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook The funniest thing I've read in an ice age...Chuck Klosterman is a Gulliver among the cult-crit Lilliputians. America should wrap her freckled arms around Klosterman's scrawny neck and press him to her bosom. He may be the last true patriot among us.
Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show Chuck Klosterman has the time and inclination to think through the issues that you didn't even know were issues. Laugh at him, or with him, or both...but you will laugh, dammit, you will laugh.