Ryan Chartrand

Chuck Klosterman’s new novel, “Downtown Owl,” forces us to take a break from pop culture. Go ahead, turn off your TV, throw your cell phone in the trash can, and forget that you know who The Rolling Stones are. The people of the town of Owl surely don’t care about those things and neither should you.

The year is 1983, and Klosterman’s flat but clever prose finds us swimming through the minds and deepest thoughts of three Owl residents. Horace Jones has lived in Owl for 73 years and passes most of his time at the coffee shop, contemplating his dead wife. Mitch Hrlicka is a high school football pseudo-star with an insight beyond the simplicity of Owl. Julia Rabia is Owl’s newest social studies teacher and the new love interest of every single male in the town.

Poor Horace. Although he is an old widower, he just will not let you feel that sorry for him. I wanted to, but it was impossible. He reflects to the reader his past regrets and the odd way his wife passed on. But no matter what, he just cannot be sympathized with. I think that was what was so sardonically entertaining about him. Klosterman’s writing conveys a perfect mental picture of Horace. He is never described in physical detail, but somehow that doesn’t matter. He is almost morbid (or perhaps just brutally honest) in such a way that I could not help but be amused.

Moving on from the local coffee hangout where Horace and his old buddies discuss the past, we find a new, timid and young teacher Julia taking down drink after drink with her new friend/enemy, Naomi. It seems that Julia has taken to Owl in a way she did not expect, and although at first greatly depressed by her meager surroundings, finds her popularity rather addicting.

More courageous when intoxicated, Julia is soon drunk most nights of the week. Developing an obsession with the only man in the bar who won’t ask her out, her drinking becomes more haphazard, and her thoughts more hilarious. I loved how Klosterman dictates conversations she would have in a “what she said,” and “what she thought” format. These can be two very different things, and it is most endearing to watch Julia sink her way further and further into the blissful ignorance that encompasses most Owl residents.

When we arrive at the town’s football field, we get to know Mitch, who would be more suited reading or writing a novel than throwing passes. Mitch solemnly meanders through life in Owl, disgusted by his teenage-girl-impregnating-teacher and coach John Laidlaw. Mitch despises Laidlaw for more reasons than his relations with Mitch’s longtime crush.

Mitch’s all-encompassing hatred for Laidlaw makes him inwardly homicidal, plotting the murder of his pompous teacher. He despises the negligent nature of Owl’s citizens and is sure that in any other town he would be in jail. But since he is not, Mitch slowly loses faith in life and monotonously displays his general disappointing snippets of his meaningless life to the reader.

Interestingly, the novel’s three main characters have little or no interaction, which I suppose is a realistic approach. Why would they, really? They all lead very different lives in the town and have little reason to come into contact with one another.

Although they don’t interact, the parallels between the three of them are abundantly apparent, like the huge blaringly loud one that reads: “I live an unfulfilled life.”

Even though the novel is not all that eventful, its sparsity is not a drawback at all. Klosterman has a way of delivering lines that are so clever and perfect, you may not even notice the familiar line the plot takes throughout. Until the end that is, which presents something unexpected and horrific. I was completely shocked, and want to tell you about it, but I really can’t. You’ll just have to “Read This!”

Next week’s book is Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz. Happy reading!

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