#20 Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
I’ve never read any of Klosterman’s works, even though he is regarded as a master of pop culture by many. And I love pop culture. One of my friends is a big fan of Klosterman and after seeing Downtown Owl in a bookstore for just $1, I figured “Why not, I’ll give him a try.”
This is apparently Klosterman’s first fictional work and if his non-fiction stuff is written in the same style and contains the same wit as Downtown Owl, then I’m going to have to expand my Chuck Klosterman collection.
The book begins with a newspaper clipping from February 1984 citing the damage of a massive blizzard in Owl, North Dakota which killed a few people. And then we meet the book’s three main characters: Mitch, Julia and Horace. Mitch is a junior at Owl High School. He’s a mediocre athlete and a decent student. Basically, he’s a normal teenager. Julia is Owl’s new elementary school history teacher. Upon arriving at the high school, the principal tells her that she’ll be the most popular girl in all of Owl and that everyone will love her. She is, understandably, confused. And lastly is Horace, an older widow who spends his days going to the local diner and doing the male version of gossiping with all the other older men of Owl.
The three characters live normal lives (for Owl’s standards). Mitch plays football and basketball. He hates his football coach, John Laidlaw because he tends to impregnate his female students. He has a running discussion with his friends over who would win a fight between the two strongest/craziest guys at Owl High School. Julia discovers that yes, she is the most popular girl in Owl because she’s the new girl that every bachelor in Owl wants to get his hands on, except the one she actually wants. She goes out drinking every night and discovers she doesn’t really give a shit about teaching the history of North Dakota. Horace thinks about his dead wife and about the mistakes he made after she was gone. From August to the day of the snowstorm we see how Mitch, Julia and Horace live their daily lives and are privy to their private thoughts.
If this book was written by someone without Klosterman’s wit and humour, it would have been your normal run-of-the-mill mediocre book. Klosterman made the characters real, nothing seemed staged or superfluous. It just flowed really well. The dialogue reminded me of conversations that I have with my friends. Sometimes a conversation is borderline ridiculous from an outsider’s standpoint, but for you it’s a valid conversation, something that needs to be discussed.
I usually read this book during my commute to and from work and I would crack the hell up. I’m sure my fellow German commuters were wondering, “What is with this chick and why is she laughing at 7:30 in the morning?”
I also enjoyed Klosterman’s social commentary on living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I come from a small town, perhaps not in the middle of nowhere, but there were still plenty of parallels to draw between my hometown and Owl. The local football hero will always be remembered for the State Championship he won and not how many illegitimate children he has or that pesky drug problem that just won’t go away. It’s rather ridiculous how one can be remembered for the things accomplished before coming of legal age, but it happens.