Thin Line Between Stupid and Clever

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Just Another Review: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
Published September 16, 2008

Need to Know: This is the first novel written by well-known pop culture commentator Chuck Klosterman. Downtown Owl depicts the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota.

Reason(s) to Read: Chuck Klosterman. If you like the man’s nonfiction work, there is a good chance you’ll like this. The characters living in Klosterman’s Owl are both entertaining and relateable for any of us who have lived in a smallish town. Klosterman grew up in North Dakota and paints an accurate picture of living in a place where everyone knows everyone else and there is little to do but spend your nights driving back and forth on the same street, playing sports (often poorly), and drinking in the same three bars night after night.

Reason(s) to Ignore: Chuck Klosterman. If you’ve read Klosterman before and were turned off, you won’t get a reprieve here. Every character thinks and speaks as Klosterman. Example:

“What kind of play was it? I used to watch the Packers with my dad. Was it a flea-flicker? I love flea-flickers. If I were a football coach, my team would run a lot of flea-flickers. The flea-flicker would be the key to our offense.”

Very few people anywhere would speak the dialogue above, let alone a 23-year-old female history teacher in a town of 600 people (even if she’s “from” Milwaukee). This is just one of the many examples throughout where the characters are obviously speaking in Klosterman’s voice rather than their own.

Also, don’t come here for the plot. This novel is about painting a picture of small town life and the character’s living there. Sure, there is a one weather related event that the novel leads to, but that’s really not the point of the story. Come for the characterization, but don’t expect the plot to drive you along.

So?: Whether you should read this really comes down to how you feel about Klosterman. If you’ve never read Klosterman in the past, this probably isn’t the best place to start (read Killing Yourself to Live or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs). Klosterman does a great job of creating an entertaining town and set of characters living within it, but it’s hard to separate the characters from the author. Klosterman has always provided entertaining insight into largely meaningless or hypothetical situations, but it’s hard to imagine every single character in a North Dakota small town thinking the same way. In Klosterman’s Owl, they do.

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