cover image The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures

Louis Theroux, . . Da Capo, $24 (266pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81503-4

Ten years after hosting a BBC series on weird American subcultures, Theroux decided to make a "Reunion Tour" and write a book about how his interviewees' lives had changed. Theroux's weird Americans were UFO enthusiasts, porn stars, Aryan Nation white supremacists, brothel prostitutes, gangsta rappers, become-a-millionaire scammers, Heaven's Gate survivors and, strangely, Ike Turner. Theroux (son of writer Paul Theroux) likes them because he believes they use weirdness to feel "alive," and that's "more important than telling the truth." Apart from that, what they have in common, 10 years later, is their unavailability—the porn star had become a computer programmer, the UFOer was inhabiting a different reality, and the prostitute was either born-again or doing drugs, hard to say. So Theroux settled for talking to others in their communities. Although he sometimes criticizes himself for botching things (trying unsuccessfully to attend the Millionaires seminar as the guest of a blacklisted former adherent), Theroux never criticizes his subjects, confining himself to what he hopes will be inoffensive questions—like, have you "ever thought of trying to be less racist?" As their rants become repetitious, these "weird" subjects become surprisingly boring. By the end, readers may wonder why Theroux still finds these people so "alive," so interesting. (Feb.)