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.