by Chuck Klosterman
Review by Joseph Marhee
On Nov. 20, I cracked and finally gave Chuck Klosterman a second chance at impressing me with some feat of writing after at least four other incredibly disappointing collections.
Apparently, fiction is Klosterman’s thing: his first novel, and fifth book, Downtown Owl was simply a surprise; it was fantastic.
Half-expecting this novel to be complete nonsense, I was forced to eat my words after completing the first three chapters—where you are introduced to the characters.
Set in 1983, in the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota, Klosterman tells a story leading up to an oft-referenced incident (not revealed until later) in Owl told through the lens of three of Owl’s residents: A high school football player, Mitch; a new teacher at Owl High, Julia; and local fixture, the deeply introverted Horace.
These residents have little in common besides living in the desolation of Owl; a town where “Disco died, and Punk never happened” and that doesn’t have cable service, and the local principal asserts that, like other towns, things never change, but in Owl, it’s taken literally; the same faces, just older. He goes on to say, quite aptly, that Owl is a “down town”, referring to its blatant declivity.
In the past, Klosterman’s work lacked an authenticity that his ability to weave fiction finally brought to light. His past collections reminded me of the prototypical hipster, College-Newspaper music reviewer; nothing living up to the Beatles, and despite growing up in the age of 8-tracks and cassette tapes, laments the death of vinyl. These words never came out of Klosterman’s mouth (or pen, for that matter), but in his essays, this pseudo-cultural elitism was implicit. Having finally delved into fiction, I think Klosterman’s found his calling.
The prose, while magnificently written, is a tad too reminiscent of Douglas Coupland, as if Klosterman used Hey Nostradamus! as a guideline for Downtown Owl. They both utilize the multiplevantage narrative schematic. Utilizing multiple views of the same landscape, culminating in a single conclusion, though arguably less manufactured than its influences. Klosterman’s similarities to Coupland are present, most prominently, in the prose itself; stylistically, you’d never know the difference if I were to present Downtown Owl to you as a Coupland novel.
However, Klosterman gains an edge for originality; Coupland’s contrivance is where he and Klosterman’s similarities diverge.
Fans of other non-fiction-writers-turnednovelists, like James Frey in Bright Shiny Morning, would certainly be attracted to the multiple story lines being told interchangeably (Mitch, Julie, Horace in rotation).
With Klosterman’s influences seemingly similar to that of his contemporaries, the novel was crafted with a sort of genuine creativity that has been lost on a lot of recent works of fiction.
If this is the direction Klosterman is heading, then I look forward to his next novel.