Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chuck Klosterman's "Downtown Owl"

The novelist Théophile Gautier once cracked that no man becomes a critic until he proves to himself that he cannot be a poet. But here comes Chuck Klosterman, the pop culture observer, making the transition to novelist with Downtown Owl. This is not his first foray into fiction, however; Klosterman concluded his last essay collection, Chuck Klosterman IV, with a short story—clearly, he’d caught the fiction bug, and a book like Owl was inevitable.

To call it a novel, however, is a stretch. Following the inhabitants of a fictional, rural, North Dakota town, Owl centers on three characters: Mitch, a third-rate quarterback so melancholic that he feels nostalgic for the time he had mono; Julia, a new high school teacher who quickly joins the town’s drinking culture; and Horace, an elderly widower who spends his days rolling dice at the local greasy spoon, sipping coffee and reflecting on his past. Each chapter, with a handful of exceptions, rotates between their stories.

Beyond their shared setting, little connects the trio. The book plays out more like The Spoon River Anthology or Winesburg, Ohio—a collection of loosely related character-portraits depicting the closeted sordidness of small town life. (Serendipitously, Downtown Owl arrived at a ripe moment, as the McCain campaign scrambled to accomplish the opposite—to equate small town America with simple and honest virtues.)

Klosterman defines his characters through anecdote because it is through these small moments that he believes the residents can best be understood. “We all believe that we are a certain kind of person,” Klosterman writes in a Mitch section, “but we never know until we do something that proves otherwise, or until we die.” He illustrates those otherwise-proving somethings, usually a low moment in the townspeople’s lives. “We are defined,” he writes, “by the singularity of our greatest failure,” as in this passage:

“Julia noticed that a few of Ted’s peers referred to him as ‘Kleptosaur.’ One night she asked him why; it was because he’d been caught shoplifting a plastic dinosaur as a third grader.”

By indulging his curiosity about the minutiae of the most ancillary actors in the town, Klosterman spreads himself thin. Downtown Owl can’t decide whether it’s a loosely connected short story collection, a la Sherwood Anderson, or a novel—that is, a narrative, in which characters serve as actors in a drama that develops over time. Those small stories can be engaging, and the book has some wonderful chapters, but nothing much happens in Downtown Owl to justify the persistent presence of the handful of leading characters.

The book opens with a faux-newspaper article detailing a severe storm; the book proper then begins several months earlier, introducing a small measure of narrative tension that goes ignored for the subsequent 230 pages. In the meantime, Klosterman invests his trio’s lives with very little drama, only minor tensions within the rotating perspectives. Horace may be the lone exception, as Klosterman slowly reveals his increasingly complex backstory; the rest of the characters hardly develop. In fact, most chapters devoted to any of the three central characters devolve into ruminations on other residents; Mitch muses on his friends and football coach; Julia runs down lists of the local barflies; Horace mulls over his companions at the coffee shop. It feels as though the author delivered a stack of short stories to an editor, who recommended inventing a tripartite framing device to tie them all together.

In the end, Owl emerges as Klosterman’s central character. Like its inhabitants, the town is flat. Literally: “When [Julia] looked out her bedroom window, she could see for ten miles to the north. Maybe for twenty miles…It was like the earth had been pounded with a rolling pin.” But abstractly, as well. As the principal explains to Julia: “It’s a down town, Owl…you’ve probably heard that the movie theater is going to close, and I’m afraid that’s true: it is closing. But the bowling alley is thriving. It’s probably the best bowling alley in the region.”

Owl even protects its own flatness: those who upset its status quo, like the fire-and-brimstone preacher that Klosterman briefly touches on, are expelled; and those who cannot be exiled are killed. Thus the killer storm that strikes at book’s end, a natural disaster of Noah’s-flood proportions that serves a similar purpose—not necessarily to cleanse the earth of the “wicked,” but to restore its own evenness by eliminating those characters that would disturb its self-regulating order. But to convey how Middle America fights to maintain its plainness, Klosterman unnecessarily mimics his own subject—Downtown Owl need not have been as flat as its eponymous town.


Anonymous said...

Thank you!!! This is the first review/blog post that captured the disappointment I felt with the book and helped me understand the skewed ending.

Anonymous said...

[b]kaspersky work space security reviews, [url=]buy macromedia fireworks[/url]
[url=][/url] can i buy macromedia flash academic software price
adobe acrobat reader 9 [url=]windows vista ultimate upgrade[/url] nero 9 trial serial
[url=]cheapest place to buy software[/url] educational software awards
[url=]coreldraw x3 upgrade[/url] buying photoshop
buy dreamweaver uk [url=]adobe imaging software[/b]

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, I think you did a good job summing up a lot of my own frustrations with the book. I was interested in the characters and the world Klosterman created, but none of the conflicts he set up were ever resolved. Still, I think it's worth a read, if only to get into a glimpse into what I assume is a realistic depiction of small-time, mid-Western life in the 80's.

Buy sperm pills said...

Well nothing to say but a truly awesome story I must say.

Vimax penis extension device said...

defines his characters through anecdote because it is through these small moment

Best Gynecomastia treatment said...

Really nice concept. Now I admire that person. Thanks.

Sexual enhancement gel review said...

Klosterman defines his characters through anecdote...very impressive.

Instant Performer sexual enhancement oil said...

It is truly said by Théophile Gautier that no man becomes a critic until he proves to himself that he cannot be a poet.As he is an famous writer, he showed his talent.

Maxocum increase low sperm count pills said...

"Downtown Owl" is a very fancy book . It seems quit hypothetical . But it makes a good taste . thanks

VigRXPlus increase penis size pills said...

This is not his first foray into fiction, however; Klosterman concluded his last essay collection...

How to increase penis size said...

Mitch, a third-rate quarterback so melancholic that he feels nostalgic for the time he had mono; Julia, a new high school teacher who quickly joins the town’s drinking culture.

Best Washing Machine 2012 said...

I had the opportunity to view "Downtown Owl" and I was delighted

M190va-Review said...

Your story is amazing sir. I think im going to take a day off and stay in the house reading your entire blog.

Vigaplus erectile dysfunction medicine said...

Well nothing to say but a truly awesome story I must say.

As seen on TV said...

I am so happy for you that you have so many visitors and hope that your next articles will be as great as this one.

Anonymous said...

What's up to all, it's genuinely a nice for me
to pay a visit this website, it consists of
important Information.
Feel free to surf my homepage : Fucking Her On All 4s

Anonymous said...

Hi! I've been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic work!
Also see my page :: Http://Www.Partygalleries.Com

Anonymous said...

What's up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere, when i read this post i thought i could also make comment due to this sensible paragraph.
Also see my website :: free porn picture

Anonymous said...

This piece of writing offers clear idea for the new users of blogging, that in fact how
to do blogging.
My web site ; nude girls

Anonymous said...

[url=]generic cialis[/url] - cheap cialis , buy cialis online

Anonymous said...

Hello there! This blog post couldn't be written any better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this post to him. Fairly certain he'll have a good read.
Many thanks for sharing!

My website: jocuri jewel online

Anonymous said...

What's up to every single one, it's really a nice
for me to pay a quick visit this site, it consists of helpful Information.

Feel free to surf to my webpage :: Juegos Online

Anonymous said...

Ahaa, its fastidious discussion regarding this article at this place at this
website, I have read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.

Check out my homepage ... godzilla porn

Anonymous said...

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide
credit and sources back to your weblog? My blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would
definitely benefit from some of the information you
present here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Appreciate it!

Also visit my web-site ... jocuri online 3d

Anonymous said...

Good web site you have here.. It's difficult to find excellent writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

My blog post :: jocuri noi gratis online

Anonymous said...

experience with be surprised What you should to purchase our Nike nfl jerseys china can cater We realize or more, many Do you visit right this moment! Wishthat you simply So the [url=]Jerseys for Cheap[/url]
baltimore ravens super bowl authentic jerseys cheap jerseys free postage cheap nfl jerseys produced in china san francisco bay area 49ers authentic super bowl jerseys cheap basketball jerseys available nike nfl wholesale jerseys authentic seahawks jerseys cheap real nfl jerseys for reasonable nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap seattle seahawks jerseys cheap color jerseys s . fransisco 49ers wearing super bowl ravens jerseys cheap sports jerseys for affordable authentic baltimore ravens superbowl jerseys
our Nike nfl jerseys china can cater
you have
[url=]Boston Celtics Jerseys[/url]
authentic wholesale jerseys colin kaepernick super bowl 47 jersey nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap cheap nfl jersey free shipping diamondbacks jerseys sale cheap nfl team jerseys from china really cheap nba jerseys cheap ravens jerseys 49ers authentic superbowl jersey

Related help links: