July 2005

Alexa

nonfiction

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman

In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman managed to make pop culture seem all the cooler by deconstructing what the rest of us had previously thought of as cool. He was snarky and smart and generally likeable. He proved that shows like The Real World had redeeming qualities long before Everything Bad is Good for You came out.

Klosterman, a senior writer for Spin magazine, has let us down with his latest, Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story. While the premise has potential: twenty-one days to cross the country visiting as many sites of musician’s deaths -- preferably those of punk rockers -- as possible. However, the plot is all but subsumed by Klosterman’s musings on girls he’s slept with, girls he wishes he could sleep with again and girls he likes the eyebrows of but has never even kissed.

Klosterman’s pop culture references in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs had a point. He is brilliant when he explains how the producers of The Real World managed to unintentionally create the disaffected youth it believed it was representing by giving kids a voice that had not previously belonged to them. He has gotten lazy in Killing Yourself to Live, describing how hot Mississippi is with “it feels like I’m trapped in the penultimate scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Sections of Killing Yourself To Live show off Klosterman’s trademark ability to find deep meaning in pop culture. Klosterman makes the 1980s cult classic Heathers into a philosophical work of art when he discusses the scene where Winona Ryder’s character writes in her diary. “Suicide gave Heather depth; Kurt a soul; Ram, a brain.” He continues, “Suicide gave the dead qualities they never possessed in life.” Klosterman takes hold of this statement (it is the basis for his book’s title), and while he notes that Ryder does not express anything new, he puts it in context: “Suicide made Judas sympathetic, Sylvia Plath irrefutable, and Marilyn Monroe unfortunate.” People’s morbid fascination with, and hope for, life after death, he suggests, can make death larger than life.

Klosterman taps into the memories of a generation by recalling his own youth. His portrayal of “a life of going to joyless keg parties and having intense temporary acquaintances and spending most of one’s times in basements and tiny apartments and crappy rented houses with five bedrooms” is palpable and morosely accurate.

Such descriptions make it all the more disheartening that the book is so lacking in forward motion. Klosterman might have been able to get away with this were he not so clearly aware of it. By page 17, he’s telling us we’ll probably say to ourselves, “Well, the larger thesis is somewhat underdeveloped” and by the end, he has his co-worker telling him, “Please don’t write a book about women you used to be in love with,” and when he asks why not, she replies by saying, “Because that’s exploitative. And narcissistic. And a bit desperate.” Which it is. The book’s failure then is not due to Klosterman’s inability as a writer or his sense of comic timing. Its flaw is a lack of ambition.

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
Scribner
ISBN: 0743264452
256 Pages