Sex, drugs, and townies

“Downtown Owl” has two holes in the cover … for some (probably meaningful) reason. 

Image Courtesy of Scribner Publishing

Image by Ashley Goetz

“Downtown Owl” has two holes in the cover … for some (probably meaningful) reason. Image Courtesy of Scribner Publishing

âÄúDowntown OwlâÄù Author:Chuck Klosterman Publisher: Scribner Pages: 288 pages Price: $24 —– Appear Well-read at Parties: Chuck Klosterman Bio: North Dakota farm kid who writes engrossing, hilarious and accessible essays on all things pop culture. He has worked for the likes of âÄúSpin,âÄù ESPN and âÄúEsquire.âÄù Works: âÄî âÄúFargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North DakotaâÄù pontificates the cultural importance of âÄô80s mainstays Poison, Ratt, Guns NâÄô Roses and glam-metal in general. As a debut, itâÄôs a geeky and superb foray into what would become a career of making geeky and superb work. âÄî âÄúSex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture ManifestoâÄù is KlostermanâÄôs broadest study of trash-culture, which fittingly found him his largest readership. It was one of the first books that could delve into the deeper meanings and workings of The Sims, âÄúSaved by the BellâÄù and The Dixie Chicks. An uncompromisingly solid and addictive read; this book will make the hipster and the trailer dweller alike feel better about their hidden or proud cultural pleasures, respectively. âÄî âÄúKilling Yourself to Live: 85% of a True StoryâÄù profiles a decidedly âÄúKlostermanishâÄù affair: A road trip that revolves around the death sites of rock stars, small town America and âÄî of course âÄî the deeper significance of it all. The bookâÄôs unifying themes further solidify Klosterman as a delightful cross between Hunter S. ThompsonâÄôs gonzo journalism and your freshman dorm roommateâÄôs stoned musings on Nirvana. âÄî âÄúChuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous IdeasâÄù is a collection of previously published essays, each piece carrying its own weight, but together comprising ChuckâÄôs least essential work. Nonetheless, you will walk away with a profound intellectual respect for NBA point guard Steve Nash. And isnâÄôt that the point? —– Freshmen adjusting to life on campus, take heed: Tell people your favorite author is Chuck Klosterman. Dropping this universally hip name will make you not only appear tasteful, funny and introspective âÄî it may just get you laid. But if youâÄôre trying to impress some attractive yet uppity fiction purist, youâÄôll need to reference his latest work, âÄúDowntown Owl.âÄù Klosterman âÄî who has already cemented himself as one of this generationâÄôs most important authors âÄî has stepped out of the modern non-fiction realm that he was not only successful in, but helped to redefine. His latest, âÄúDowntown OwlâÄù, marks his exit from said genre as he embarks into unfamiliar territory: Fiction. âÄúDowntown OwlâÄù details the town of Owl, North Dakota and its roughly 800 residents in the third culturally insignificant year of the culturally insignificant decade that was the âÄô80s. Mitch, a third-string high school quarterback, Julia, OwlâÄôs newest teacher fresh from college/Milwaukee and Horace, a widower and Owl lifer, make up the three characters that the fragmented story details. Mitch canâÄôt stop fantasizing about gruesomely murdering his pedophilic coach/English teacher throughout his days, which are a wash of football games, driving around with friends and discussing the much-discussed hypothetical fight between the townâÄôs largest jock and most frightening loner. Julia is in full-on big-fish-small-pond mode and loving it. The Milwaukee native is young and lusted over by the entire male population of Owl to the extent that she never has to pay for her own drinks (which is fortunate, given the volume she drinks). From there, Klosterman fleshes out a town of gambling elders and sexy buffalo farmers, weaving their stories around the small town, the epic blizzard of âÄô84 and the self-realization that ensues. KlostermanâÄôs previous work relied heavily on nontraditional literary gimmicks (reliance on hypothetical questions that drive entire chapters, inner-dialogue and other devices that deviate from the plot but still add to it). Thankfully, he felt entirely comfortable employing these in âÄúDowntown Owl.âÄù TheyâÄôre the things that make KlostermanâÄôs nonfiction decidedly âÄúKlostermanishâÄù and theyâÄôre not lost on his fiction. Another layover from previous efforts is KlostermanâÄôs obsession with trash-culture. âÄúE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,âÄù ZZ Top and GUESS? Jeans are only some of the nonstop barrage of âÄò80s references that are scattered so regularly that it almost seems as though he canâÄôt help himself. The result is a vapid âÄô80s landscape that âÄî unlike fellow music-centric, soulless âÄò80s book âÄúLess Than ZeroâÄù âÄî doesnâÄôt leave a foul taste in your mouth. In âÄúDowntown Owl,âÄù Klosterman accomplishes a formidable task âÄî creating predominantly empty characters that the reader still manages to forge an emotional connection with. The most encouraging aspect of âÄúDowntown OwlâÄù is KlostermanâÄôs surprising ability to tell a story. Utilizing a strong voice, unique plot devices and recognizable subject matter has worked well for Klosterman in the past, but none of that requires a compelling narrative. Here, though, the pages are not devoured for further perspective into the idiocentricities of Gilbert Arenas or the drunken sadness of Billy Joel, but rather, just to see what happens next. While it sometimes too frequently falls back on Billy Squier references and the borderline hackneyed portrayal (although it is presented far more honestly than most) of small town America, âÄúDowntown OwlâÄù excels in its fluid progression of a unique plot. ItâÄôs that engaging uniqueness that has made Klosterman who he is and can make name-dropping readers hip by association.