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Downtown Owl: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 2009
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*Starred Review* Klosterman, who has made a name for himself as an idiosyncratic pop-cultural commentator on rock music and sports, proves just as entertaining in his first novel. In or on the edge of nondescript Owl, North Dakota, live laid-back high-school football player Mitch Hrlicka, who stands out from his peers by being exceedingly normal; teacher Julia Rabia, who has fallen in love with buffalo farmer and Rolling Stones–exclusivist Vance Druid; and old Horace Jones, who mourns his wife and has a few painful secrets. Klosterman doesn’t follow them in a conventional narrative manner. Gifted with a superb ear for dialogue, a kind of perfect pitch for the way ordinary people talk, Klosterman is also capable of fine word-portraits of the three principals and the folks orbiting them in a town whose residents have nicknames like Vanna White, Bull Calf, Grendel, and Little Stevie Horse ’n’ Phone, and time exists on its own odd terms rather than those of the novel’s setting, the 1980s. Despite their eccentricities, or maybe because of them, one believes in these people and their often improbable yet always credible stories. Think of this as a literary relative of the movies Fargo and American Graffiti, sans the latter’s cruising Main Street and warm weather, with a poignant and tragic edge to it, conferred by a paralyzing and deadly blizzard in February 1984. --June Sawyers --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"An astonishingly moving book, a minor masterpiece in the genre we might call small-town quirkiana." -- The Boston Globe
"It's tempting to compare this novel with Sherwood Anderson's classic portrait of small-town American life, Winesburg, Ohio. But no one in Winesburg listened to Ozzy Osbourne. And Klosterman is much funnier than Anderson." -- The Washington Post
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Top Customer Reviews
The audio version is read as an anthology which each voice given a distinct reader. The result takes a superior story and steps it up a notch. The book package now contains "Theater of the Mind". I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to sit in the dark and see a first-rate tale unfold behind the eyelids......bg
Klosterman is a pop culture fanatic but this one is different. Owl is "more" mainstream, reminiscent of Plain Song (Haruf) and The Shipping News (Proulx). Considering its diminutive size (288 pages) the story and characters will stick with you long after you put it down. The sobering and abrupt conclusion might leave you feeling the way you do when you find someone has died and no one told you they were sick. If you are from the parts of this mortal coil where Alberta Clippers are something vague like a hockey team you might want to look it up first. North Dakota is home to some of the most severe weather in the lower 48. As the author notes many diesel engines are left running for weeks at a time to keep the fuel from turning to something with the consistency of lava but without the heat..
It is time for school to begin in 1983. A new young teacher has been hired. Julia came from a more metropolitan background but knows she needs experience. Mitch is a high school student whose English teacher and football coach has nicknamed him Vanna (searching for a letter). He is far more intelligent and curious than many of his classmates. Unlike so many congenital "small town forever" types he has the moral and brilliance internal compass that tells him where the edge is and how to keep from crossing it. Horace is an aging widower who both openly and subliminally mourns the early passing of the love of his life and who has settled into the concrete habits so familiar to those of a certain age. Habits so predictable you could virtually set the proverbial watch by. He and his partners in crime live out their existence like stones in a rock garden with their repeated stories and petty belief systems.
Klosterman has managed with these three individuals to penetrate the society that is Owl. The school, the bars, the general environs, the secondary players will be familiar to you long before you begin to sense that things don't always work out the way you hoped. In small towns seemingly mundane events take on lives of their own and form the mythological road down which all locals will march. The lives of our heroes here will be no exception. As one reviewer said this ain't Kennedy on Albany, but how could it be? I predict you'll agree this one is a keeper. 2.75* GIBO
"Downtown Owl" is no different. The story itself is both compelling and interesting. Through the eyes of a 17 year old quarterback, a 20-something teacher who just moved to town, and a 73 year old widower, Klosterman paints a selective portrait of the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota in 1983.
It is hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away, but it's mostly a character study. The problem comes, however, with the ending. I was on board until the event that brings all of the characters together in the end. As I closed the book, all I could think was, "Klosterman doesn't know how to end a story." It's worth reading as a virgin effort, especially as a fan of the author, but for my part, I'm disappointed.
I hoped I would.
So I picked up downtown owl and read it in a week's time. I felt it to be a bit slow at the onset, BUT I usually find a lot of books slow to start. Perhaps the focus on three separate characters with no interaction between them, led to a bit of a disconnect and therefore a flat beginning. But it picked up as the story went on.
As he begins to build on each of the character's personalities and lives, the reader gets a sense of the small town character and how there lives are affected by living in a place with a population of 1,000. His signature writing style appears midway through, particularly in the nuances of each character's thought processes and how that relates to their actions (in particular there is a section of what she said/what she meant, what he replied/what he was thinking, that's a bit drawn out but very klostermanic).
It helped that I didnt read the synopsis of the book so the element of surprise helped to make the ending of the book that much better (I recomment those who read it to do the same). But it was probably the last few sections where the character's really question a lot about the meaning of their own lives (and deaths) that made this book what it is. So much of klosterman's work relates to trying to find meaning in all of the little (and sometimes big, but mostly the little) things in life. The last few sections really help the reader relate to the character and feel the character emotions that he writes in for them.
I enjoyed the book and was pleasantly surprised to find that Chuck can make fictitious characters almost as fun as pop culture icons.