In "Slow Pop," one of the "stories" in Klosterman's new collection entitled Raised in Captivity, an unnamed narrator tells us:
I want to tell you about this guy. I don't know why, but I do. And let me be clear: This is not a story about a guy. This is not a story at all. It's just information about a guy you've never heard of, a guy you will never meet, a guy who left and never came back. But there was something about this guy, this person, this citizen, this bipedal humanoid projection. I'm still dealing with him, inside my mind. I'm still arguing with him, every morning and every night.
This passage pretty much sums up the book. Each of the thirty-four parts superficially look a lot like short stories. There are (usually) characters and these characters, more often than not, do stuff. Yet there remains something missing with each of these pieces that prevent them from being stories in the proper sense; they each raise interesting questions but Klosterman seems far more interested in simply postulating the question than giving the reader any kind of concrete, well-thought, answer.
Take for instance the story "Blizzard of Summer" in which a band's rise to stardom has come on the back of a vapid love/ break-up song that is co-opted as the racist anthem for white supremacists:
"We're dealing with a fundamental question about art," the manager finally said, trying to sound like a person who understood the problem. "Does the motive of the artist matter, or is the received message the only thing that counts? Two of you wrote a love song. Some people think it's a hate song. Smart people get it. Dumb people don't. But dumb people are still people."
This is an interesting conundrum/ question indeed, but Klosterman doesn't even really make an attempt at answering. Instead, he ends the story with a joke and is on to the next question/ premise.
All this is starting to sound like I didn't like the book--which couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I loved it. But just because I loved it doesn't mean that I can't recognize why other people wouldn't love it. Or, to put this another way, Raised in Captivity is sort of like sitting around a campfire or living room, slightly high or drunk, with your super analytical/ intellectual friend. You talk. You eat a few too many Cheetos. There are a lot of sentences that start: Have you ever thought about how... or Wouldn't it be crazy if... Such an experience could probably be viewed as either a lot of fun or absolutely horrendous depending on how much you liked and actually were interested in what this hypothetical friend had to say.
Which is all to say, I probably liked this book so much because I really like Chuck Klosterman. Chuck Klosterman and I have a lot in common. We like (I think) some of the same music; we're both into basketball; we both write and like to analyze stuff. If you too like Chuck Klosterman, you are going to love this book. If you don't, then this book probably isn't going to change your mind.
Rating: a heavily caveated 5 stars