Chuck Klosterman (“Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs”) recently released “Downtown Owl,” his fifth book and his first fiction novel. Klosterman is known for his intellect and criticism of popular culture, but his transition from critic to novelist doesn’t go over as smoothly for readers unfamiliar with his earlier work. “Downtown Owl” takes place in the small, make-believe town of Owl, North Dakota, where everyone seems to know what you do, without really knowing who you are. They hate the government, and almost everyone seems to be a farmer. The football coach is known for impregnating teenage girls. But to the town’s residents, those facts are almost perfect, as normal seems to have a different meaning.
The story revolves around three characters: Mitch Hrlicka, a high school backup quarterback, Julia Rabia, the young, new teacher in town, and Horace Jones, a widowed old man who has lived with a dark secret since the passing of his wife. The three are connected by a blizzard that hits town, but their paths never truly cross.
Each of them seems to want to lead a normal life, but realize their lives fit the typical pattern of someone residing in the town. In Owl, people work hard, watch their dreams disappear into the landscape that is North Dakota and then die. While each character deals with their own problems, the story seems to be more about three people, in a small town, during a particular time.
Klosterman does a good job in developing each character but he does so in a confusing manner. Each chapter tells the story of each of the three individual characters and alternates among them throughout the book. While doing so, he drifts from the main story and begins to explain some of history behind the town and the supporting characters.
His well-known witty humor sometimes fails to give each character some level of importance. It almost comes across as if he didn’t really care about each of them. He left it up to the readers to determine for themselves how they should feel about certain situations in the story.
The ending will definitely leave readers with questions, because the book just ends. The entire story is about the characters’ lives leading up to the unearthly blizzard. The ending barely acknowledges them all together, almost making them irrelevant.
The book does have a lot of pleasant moments, especially within the dialogue and the depth of each character. The quick history lessons also give the town some importance within the story. Overall, fans of Klosterman will definitely enjoy this quick read, but others might want to wait for a price drop before picking this book up.
- EDITORIAL: Apologize about the real problem - April 23, 2014
- STATEMENT: District apologizes to Oscar winning alum - April 21, 2014
- EDITORIAL: The Forgotten Students - March 26, 2014