Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading Rainbow: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

For the past few months, I have been devouring everything written by Chuck Klosterman. I am currently working on Chuck Klosterman IV, and at this point only have Killing Yourself to Live left to read. I have been reading him so obsessively that I actually went out and bought Downtown Owl, his new novel, the week it came out and read it immediately. This is the first time I have purchased a brand new book the week of its release since Pynchon's Against the Day came out (on the same day as Tom Waits's Orphans box set and the Sufjan's Songs for Christmas set, which was an expensive day). That being said, it was no sure thing that his first non-pop-culture centric writing would be a successful endeavor.

Upon having finished Downtown Owl, I can safely say that Chuck Klosterman's first official foray into the realm of fiction writing alleviates those concerns.

Perhaps my own small town background colors my opinions on the book, as the book is at its most basic level about a small midwestern town. Where most movies/books/shows fail to do justice in capturing small town life is in that they are overly reliant upon the caricaturization (sure, I probably just made up a word, but you know what I'm talking about) of small town folks. Shows like "Men in Trees" and "Gilmore Girls" frame small town life as one full of ridiculous characters with simple lives and simple wishes and, more often than not, simple minds. There are simply too many instances of shows being littered with zany half-tards who are completely out of touch with reality. And unfortunately, the instances in which creative endeavors over the past fifteen years get small town life right (and make it interesting) do not go much further than "Friday Night Lights" (murders notwithstanding) and "Northern Exposure"*. You can now include Downtown Owl in that company.

*I entertained the notion of including shows like "The Wonder Years" and "Freaks and Geeks" in this company but decided that they were not contemporary and were as much suburban life as about small town life, which is a small, but I think important difference.

Klosterman takes the widower farmer, the teen outcast, and the young teacher and breathes life into them. He fleshes them out with complexity rather than simplicity. Contrary to the way popular culture would like to portray small town America, Klosterman shows the vast array of people actually present in small towns. In his secondary characters, the reader is introduced to characters with dreams out of character with their pigeonholed place in society. The breadth of people that actually exist outside the city is alive and well in Klosterman's Owl.

And it's not just that this is an accurate portrayal of small town America. Past that Downtown Owl is a great book. Klosterman's readers would not be surprised to find that its funny and smart, but they may be surprised to find that it is also at times moving, complex, suspenseful, and tragic.

If that doesn't sound like a book you want to read, then I'm not sure what you're reading.


Tracey said...

I'm a big Klosterman fan - thanks for the tip, didn't realize his novel was out yet.

KRD said...

Sure. I mostly agree with your analysis and evaluation here, even though I am not a small town girl. (A suburban girl, yes, but not a small town girl.)

Have you ever read Election? I kept thinking that it reminded me a lot of Election, except that Klosterman makes me laugh out loud a lot more than Perrotta.

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