Thursday, September 11, 2008

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is absolutely brilliant. In the seven years since he released his first book, Fargo Rock City, he has been propelled to pop culture writer superstardom, releasing the incredibly popular follow-up books Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Killing Yourself to Live, and IV. Klosterman writes about most things that "normal" people don't give a shit about, such as the unbalanced nature of When Harry Met Sally, or how strange he thinks Val Kilmer is. But he makes people give a shit through his linguistic stylings and far-out commentary. These are (almost) always non-fiction, focusing on real-world events rather than hypotheticals.
But all of that changed with this book. His first fiction novel, titled Downtown Owl, deals with three different people in a very small town (named Owl) in 1983 and '84. The characters are a high school jock that cares about nothing, a young and fresh-faced high school history teacher that is new to the town, and a crotchety old widower that reads and gossips more than he should. I have to admit, after hearing this motley crew of protagonists, I was decidedly nervous about picking it up and reading it. None of the three seemed all that appealing. I didn't count on becoming this attached to all of them.
The book switches out between the three characters with each chapter, going in the above order, with few interruptions. All three of them are connected, in some sort of way. This interconnectedness, combined with Chuck's encyclopedia-like knowledge of 80's culture and events makes for an absolutely fantastic read. I finished the book in three sittings, the only interruptions coming when I had to write on here or work on school. I can safely say that it is now one of my favorite books ever; a title that is also shared by his third book, Killing Yourself to Live.
Klosterman's first toe into the pool of fiction was the final third of his 2006 book IV. In this semiautobiographical short story (which Klosterman claims was the beginning of his first attempt at writing a fiction book) deals with hard drugs, working for a newspaper in a small town, sex that isn't really sex, and extremely strange events. It's fucking amazing, because it is like concentrated Chuck. He manages to make you care about the main character's opinions about everything in only a few short pages. This is exactly why Chuck Klosterman matters to the world, and why he is by far my biggest inspiration. He can write about the most mundane of subjects and make it seem interesting. That's exactly what he did with this book. Klosterman makes small town's problems and gossip matter, and for that, I salute him. Think of this book as a mid-80's version of Richard Linklater's movie Dazed and Confused. Within a short period of time, we are shown every facet of the culture of that decade. Pick this up when it comes out on the 16th, even if you've never read any of his previous work. You won't regret it.

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