There’s a new novel by Chuck Klosterman who as many of you know is one of my favorite writers. While his past 4 books were all non-fiction, this new book, called Downtown Owl, is a fiction novel that takes place in 1983 North Dakota.
I think it’s a pretty good book and it definitely captured my attention. My big issue with the book is that it’s all description and details. There is very little interaction or plot. It’s a 300 page summary of a time and people in North Dakota with some interesting anecdotes. It’s funny, witty and well-written but it’s not necessarily a story.
That said, it’s very Klosterman-ish and has some great elements. As usual he explores deeply the frivolous. There are entire chapters about a theoretical fight between a hulking giant of a boy named Grendal and a smaller, wrong-side of the tracks type kid name Cubby who loves to fight. With a typical Klostermanish metaphor, the scenario is more than just a “who would win” but a nice little metaphor for what you believe in the world. Do traits like physical appearance or genes win out in our world or will characteristics like desire and passion? Peolpe will lean different ways and that debate is by far the best part of the book.
One thing i really like is how he sets up the small town feel. One character in high school relates Owl to the book 1984 – the Orwell book his class was assigned saying:
“Everyone knew everything. So how was ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ a dystopia? It seemed ordinary. What was so unusual about everyone knowing all the same things?”
“People always say that nothing changes in a small town, but — whenever they say that — they usually mean that nothing changes figuratively. The truth is that nothing changes literally: It’s always all the same people, doing all the same things.”
Discussing the differnce between literal thoughts and figurative is something Chuck loves to do. He’s typically done it with popular culture but in Downtown Owl he does it with a 1980’s North Dakota town. And it makes for a pretty fun read