Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: Klosterman Attempts a Narrative


Chuck Klosterman cannot stop writing like Chuck Klosterman even when he shifts away from pop-culture philosophy to novel writing. Downtown Owl is so saturated with references to 80s films, fads, and trends that the story (arguably the most important part of a novel) gets moved to the back burner. But for fans of Klosterman, however, Downtown Owl will be another testament to 80s art and culture.

Klosterman follows three characters through their daily lives in Owl, ND—a small Everytown, USA. The central conflict revolves around a snow storm the readers know is coming but every character won’t anticipate until it’s upon them. Mitch, a third-string quarterback, spends his days plotting ways to kill his coach and teacher Mr. Laidlaw. Mitch hates Mr. Laidlaw because Laidlaw is hard on him, sometimes too hard, but his distaste emerges as a result of Laidlaw’s sexual relationships with teenage girls. Horace, a widower, spends his days drinking coffee and listening to the ramblings of other retirees at a local coffee shop. Julia, our third protagonist, is new to Owl and spends most of her days trying to acclimate to small town life while being completely enamored with a local celebrity.

The ending is foretold but comes without any consequence. Once the climax comes the book ends and we never see the fallout after a small town’s tragedy. One flies through the first 250 pages waiting for something to happen, but after that incident has occurred we aren’t given the proper satisfaction of what becomes of Owl.

I won’t say Downtown Owl is bad because that wouldn’t be true. Klosterman can write; he’s proved that with his other work and this piece continues his analysis of bygone culture. But sometimes his analysis speaks over the characters we are reading. One section of the book is narrated by Cubby Candy, the town’s resident psychopath with a knack for getting into fights and winning them with no regard for his opponent’s life. Cubby’s home life is far from perfect; he tells us his father’s “sadism seemed to materialize out of an empty void.” That’s an eloquent way of describing his father, but not the words Cubby would have used. Cubby’s a brute—not by his own doing—but a brute none-the-less.

Klosterman’s abilities make him a wonderful cultural historian, but these skills do not translate to novel writing. Stick to his earlier work and you’ll find all the interesting bits from Downtown Owl without the unfulfilled narrative.

1 comment:

Salvatore said…

Am I even allowed to comment since this is one of my company’s books?

My roommate and a friend of mine both said that this book made them feel that they could be a fiction writer. As in, it didn’t seem that hard to pass off what Klosterman did here. I found that kind of interesting.

I don’t think I’d read this one. I haven’t even read his essays. But I did see him read at the Brooklyn Book Fair last year, and he was pretty damned enthusiastic.