Bookish Thoughts: Downtown Owl
I’ll admit it; I get literary man crushes. In the past this has included John Irving, John Frame, Peter Leithart, and Chuck Klosterman. (Incidentally, my current infatuation is with James K.A. Smith)
Chuck Klosterman is primarily a pop-culture essayist who has written for just about every magazine in print. Some of these essays have been compiled into the books Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs and Eating the Dinosaur. Some of the sections in these books I miss (because Klosterman is 10 years older than I am), but most the time they are brilliant. Two in particular stand out. The first was an interview of Britney Spears for Esquire magazine. This interview took place just was her second album was debuting. It was during the time she was going from teen-pop sensation to super-megastar. In the interview, Klosterman ask her about being a sex symbol. She spends the rest of the article denying the idea that she is known for her sexuality and attributes that to “pervy old men” who are reading too much into her songs. He concludes the piece by pointing out that she is either the most brilliant person he has ever met (because of how well she keeps up her facade) or the most niave. The second article is about how The Empire Strikes Back defines generation X. Both are brilliant.
Chuck Klosterman has also written fiction, but I hadn’t read any of it until now. Downtown Owl is a tale of 3 people who live in a very small town in rural North Dakota. The book is told almost as journal entries from these three characters as they live in the isolated town of Owl.
Mitch is a junior at Owl highschool. He is the backup quarterback of the football team and archenemy of the philandering coach/teach Mr. Laidlaw. Mitch’s portion of the story is the best part of the book. It asks questions about the nature of friendship and lonliness. Mitch can be summed up with this: he has no posters on the walls of his room and doesn’t understand why his friends do. Whether it is because Klosterman could be slightly autobiographical or not, he writes his best when he writes as Mitch. His explanation of why a local huligan could beat up the local sports star is hilarious.
Julia is a young woman who has moved from Minneapolis to Owl to teach social studies. She goes from being a slightly more attractive than average college girl to the most popular woman in Owl. Her story is an exploration of personality. Who would you be, if you moved to a new place where you were all of the sudden more attractive and interesting than you had ever been. Julia’s story is probably the least enjoyable.
Horace is a lovable if not grumpy old widower. Most of his sections of the book take place in diner where he spends his afternoons “sitting on the third stool, drinking 3 cups of coffee, each with 3 teaspoons of sugar”. His story focuses on ideas like fate and predistination. He is a well drawn character. Klosterman makes you simultaneously root for and pity him.
It is also worth note, that I was able to listen to this book on CD. Each character was read by a different reader who was able to really bring out nuances of the sketches. Overall the book was an enjoyable read, even if it did pull a Chinua Achebe at the end.