Sunday, April 11, 2010

Downtown Owl

Chuck Klosterman's first (and only to date) piece of fiction, Downtown Owl, was a really interesting read. I've read some of his non-fictional pieces and really enjoyed his commentary, especially on pop culture, his specialty. Thus, I was really interested to see what he could do with a piece of fiction, and I was very impressed, overall.

Downtown Owl takes place in a fictional town of Owl, North Dakota. Klosterman himself is from the midwest and most likely drew from his own experiences growing up in a small town like this one. The novel transfers between three narrators. Mitch is a football player who is depressed for no reason really. Julia is a history teacher who just moved to the town straight out of college. Horace is an older man who hangs out at the local diner and interacts with the town folk. Through their commentaries, a narrative is woven.

Mitch's perspective focuses on how lame high school is. He talks a lot about his loathed football coach and English teacher who sleeps with the students and gets away with it. The town turns a blind eye. It's pretty gross. He already impregnated two girls. Then they move. Then he moves on. Mitch also talks about his sports and hanging out with his friends, which this again revolves around current pop culture.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that this takes place in 1983-1984? Awesome decade to encapsulate. Not much is written about the 80s in retrospect, since it's a bit recent, but I thought Klosterman did an awesome job taking us back to that time period.

Connecting with those years, Mitch's class reads Orwell's 1984, and connections to the novel are quite interesting to read.

Julia's perspectives focuses on teaching in a small town and not knowing anyone. She becomes familiarized with the customs and nicknames of the locals (the nicknames having no importance whatsoever to the character of the person, just a stupid story that was funny at one point). Julia feels like an alien in this town and is bombarded with folk who want to take her out because she's new. She goes to the local bars quite often, especially with her two sidekicks. Julia meets Vance Druid, a local football celebrity, and their interactions are really interesting.

Klosterman's writing style is unique from other writers. In one instance, in a conversation between Vance and Julia, Klosterman alternates between, "What she said" and "What she meant," and then to "What he said" and "What he meant." It analyzes a conversation between two people who are both flirting with the other one but have different intentions. It was fascinating to read, and dead-on.

Horace's perspective deals with talking with locals about other people in the town. Horace talks a lot about his deceased wife, which it seems that he either killed or led to her death somehow. It's a little mysterious. He likes living alone now and talks a lot about the past with his wife and his life alone now.

SPOILER: The end was captivated, and it came from nowhere! I never saw this happening! Since there really wasn't a STRONG central plot, the ending tied all three narratives together. I liked it so much because it came from left field. On the last night, the town is hit with a terrible snowstorm that ends up killing sixteen people. Two of those people are Julia and Mitch, who talk about their final minutes. Those narratives are fascinating. Horace survives the storm and walks us through how he does so.

Very strange way to end it. Why kill off two of those narrators? Why kill THOSE narrators? They were the youngest and had the most to learn/gain. Why let the one who is oldest and wouldn't mind dying, die? Klosterman even foreshadows this event with a news story at the beginning of the novel, but the reader has no idea what this connects to until the end. And, we don't know who dies.

End of spoiler.

Even though the plot isn't 100% solid, it was really interesting to read through. Klosterman's characters engage in thought-provoking and/or humorous discussion that you can't put down. You might even bring up some of their points in discussion in your real life. And, he intersperses musical commentary and 80s references to keep you interested as well.

Overall, if you like Klosterman or are looking for a good piece of fiction to read, Downtown Owl is for you. I really enjoyed it and was disappointed when I finished it. I sat down and read it in the span of one day, but it can be spread out and enjoyed over more time as well.

So what do you think of Downtown Owl?


Azor said...

I thought it was awesome, though it's important to note that there are not two characters in the novel named "Mitch." You inexplicably refer to Horace as "Mitch," not once, but on numerous occasions. This is actually the kind of quirk that I would describe as "Klostermanesque."

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Jami said...

I just re-read it and caught it! Thanks for making me aware. I have no idea why I did that...

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I've never been a fan of fictional stories, I think I could only bare to read "New World Order" and "1984", but this is a very impressive one and really caught my attention. if69

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