I have to marvel at Louis Theroux. He seems to have the capability to get anybody to talk to him, and to tell him lots about themselves. White supremacists, porn stars, rappers (okay, he doesn't have as much luck with rappers) - you name it; they’ll talk to him. Theroux has done a series of documentaries for BBC television about people outside the mainstream, and now he wants to go on a reunion tour. That's the main theme of The Call of the Weird, going back to some of his previous subjects to find out if they've rejoined "normal" society or just to get an update on their lives. I'm not familiar with Theroux's documentaries, so this was all new to me, but Theroux does an excellent job bringing the reader up to speed. It's a fun read, but even more so, it's an interesting one. You'll have trouble putting it down.
One of the marvels of The Call of the Weird is that it shows all of these subjects in a "normal" light starting with the prologue, where Theroux is talking to a guy from the Aryan Nations in their complex in northern Idaho. They're up in a guard tower, and all of a sudden this guy just starts talking about how much he loves the British sitcom Are You Being Served? They have a conversation about it, but Theroux doesn't let him off easy when he reminds the man about the gay character in that show. He hems and haws, then says that the character is "disgusting", and it goes on from there.
Theroux presents the humanity in his subjects without necessarily sympathizing with them, walking the fine line between their extreme views and the normalcy of everyday life. He has conversations with them, both about their philosophies as well as their thoughts on typical activities. In doing so, he does make them more "human", but this doesn't soften our view of them. Instead, it makes them more horrific (or in the case of the porn industry, pathetic).
The final chapter is about April and her twin daughters, Lynx and Lamb. Lynx and Lamb form the white-power singing duo "Prussian Blue." Their mother is a virulent racist, and her two children are living the lifestyle. April is reluctant to talk to Theroux at first because the documentary made her look really bad, but he finally convinces them to go on an outing with him to a theme park where they discuss things. He also meets her father, which demonstrates just how she became the woman she is, and he has trouble not baiting them with his questions. He's convinced that the two daughters secretly wish to lead a normal life, but they do seem quite indoctrinated. The situation Theroux shows is incredibly sad, as the cycle continues.
Theroux covers everything from racists to porn stars, rappers to Ike Turner, even UFO believers and former Heaven's Gate members, and all are interesting in their own right. The Turner chapter is especially interesting as Theroux gets behind the public image, the demon from the movie. He never excuses Turner's actions, but he does let Turner tell his story, if he's willing to. Turner tends to dodge the Tina questions, though he does express sadness at how demonized his image has become.
Each chapter tells of Theroux's attempts to get in touch with his former subjects, some of them reluctant to talk, some of them having disappeared and needing to be tracked down. In the process of telling this story, he also tells about their first meeting, giving some background on the televised documentary for those who haven't seen it. He talks to friends, former co-workers or associates, always with an open ear and a willingness to listen even if he has serious disagreements with what they're saying. In doing so, he gets them (not just his subjects, but also the associates) to open up to him and talk about the industry (porn) or the ups and downs of the movement (Aryan Nations). That's what truly makes this book interesting: getting the background on why these people feel the way they feel or do what they do.
As a warning to the easily offended, Theroux doesn't whitewash anything – there is a lot of bad language and some disturbing images. Of course, Theroux always explores the extreme, so this isn't surprising. The sex descriptions are mostly in the porn section, so you can skip that chapter to avoid it. Theroux doesn't glorify it, though, just lets the people in the industry talk about it, unedited (at least for language, anyway).
The Call of the Weird is alternately funny and disturbing (sometimes at the same time), but it's an excellent read. It does make many of the subjects look bad, but that's not really the point of the book. They look bad due to their own words and philosophies, not because of anything Theroux does. The point is that these are interesting people and that exploring the underpinnings of society can reveal just how human some of these people are. And that's actually one of the more frightening things in this book.