Friday, October 24, 2008

"Downtown Owl" by Chuck Klosterman

I had never heard of this book until my coworker started saying how much she wanted to read it. I had also never heard of Chuck Klosterman before, which is probably a good thing; reviews on Amazon compare him to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, a guy who I never could get into. Liked him enough in theory, but when it came to actually reading his stuff? Just did not work for me.

"Downtown Owl" sounds like it's about a town out of place in time when you first read the dust jacket blurb. Then you start the book and realize that the novel is set in the school year of '83-'84, so that's why "disco is over but punk never happened". Owl is a tiny North Dakota town of 800 where everyone knows everyone; there are no secrets in Owl. They have a decent football team, a pretty good basketball team, and the usual cast of small-town characters such as the old men that gather at a diner to drink coffee every afternoon. It's a slice of Americana and there's a blizzard brewing that will affect the lives of everyone in Owl.

I liked the writing; Klosterman has some very interesting ways of phrasing things. I liked the character development, as I felt like I knew the three "main" characters from whose perspectives the story is told: Julia, the new history teacher; Mitch, a so-so third-string quarterback for the football team; and Horace, one of the aforementioned coffee drinkers. The book is not told from first-person perspectives, which I think was smart. But just as the people in Owl don't really know each other, I also felt like I didn't completely know the characters either. It seemed like everyone was hiding something, even from the reader.

There are some well-written reviews on Amazon, and oddly enough, one of them nailed my feeling about the book. The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking of the movie Dazed and Confused; the Amazon reviewer said this book was basically that movie if the movie had had Horace and John Laidlaw's points of view filmed (the movie was told basically from the teen point of view only, a very nostalgic look at the mid-70's). As was true with the movie, there's not really a plot per se; things simply happen. There's even a fight scene between two characters in the book, just as there was in the movie, although the novel's fighters are pretty much impelled to fight due to circumstances beyond their control. The movie fight was something you could see coming, but not until that scene.

If you like quirky characters, loved the 80's, or grew up in a small town, this book will probably resonate with you. If you're expecting a logical point A-leads-to-point B, pick up something else.

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