Saturday, January 02, 2010

Book Review: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

I am a huge fan of Chuck Klosterman's non-fiction work, so I met the prospect of his fiction with a sort of hopeful apprehension. I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be as good as his other work simply because fiction was not his primary mode of writing up to this point. I am pleased to report that Klosterman met and then exceeded my expectations.

Downtown Owl is not the novel I expected it to be. I don't know what I expected it to be, but it wasn't what was delivered to me. I think I half expected a sort of pretentious love story wrought with allusions to some protagonist's vast musical knowledge and intense desire to get out of small town rural America. I love Chuck Klosterman, but any Chuck Klosterman fan would also know exactly why I might get this idea.

What I got instead was an illuminating investigation of small town life. Sure, there were allusions to pop culture artifacts of the time (it is set in 1983) and a few turns of phrase that sounded like the Klosterman I'm used to reading, but on the whole, the development of the three main characters' story archs not only helped to move the story along but helped to imbue the novel with an acute awareness of humanity and the human experience.

This is why, to me, the novel was so good. Any novel that can deftly handle the human experience will be good, but a novel that manages to handle three separate experiences in equally touching and sympathetic ways shows an advanced understanding of what makes people tick, what makes them get up in the morning and feel that they have some degree of purpose, even if to the outside eye, they may be floundering.

Some might argue that the story doesn't necessarily "go" anywhere for much of the novel, and this is true, to a degree. It isn't evident precisely what the novel is leading up to, what sort of climactic moment will emerge. And when this moment does emerge, it's with a deftly handled mix of clarity and confusion that is incredibly compelling. But the development of these characters, the slow realizations about their motives and their pasts (particularly in the case of the character Horace, I found) is reason enough to propel the story forward.

As a reader, I felt privileged to crawl inside the minds of these characters, and the outside elements of plot and location only helped to inform this experience. For that I must give Klosterman my highest accolades, and site this novel as one of the many reasons I have believed in his capabilities as an author since I first read him a few years ago. Highly recommended.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

1 comment:

krebscout said...

cite, not site?

You've got me interested.