By Chuck Klosterman
Nothing ever changes. Until it does. Then everything is different.
Such is the case in pop culture laureate Chuck Klosterman's first novel, Downtown Owl. It tells the story of a sleepy town that isn't really there. According to Walter Valentine, the principal of Owl High, "You're going to like it here. It's not Monaco. It's not like you'll be phoning your gal pals every night saying 'I'm living in Owl, North Dakota, and it's a dream come true'. But you will like it here."
And he's right.
Downtown Owl is not spectacular or life-affirming, but it is an engrossing, enjoyable read by a likable author who knows what he does well. For the most part, Klosterman stays within his comfort zone, focusing on quirky, amusing takes on culture and human interactions.
The story centers around three residents of Owl who have never met but know each other perfectly. In a town like Owl, where nothing ever changes, you don't need to have any contact with someone to know exactly who they are. Although these characters lead outwardly banal existences, the reader sees the staggering complexity and depth that they hide from the world around them. Downtown Owl's well-rendered characters hide their pain, confusion, and isolation under the guise of hard work and perceived normalcy.
Though the narrative drama successfully builds to a crescendo, Downtown Owl's marrow results from Klosterman's rare ability to find beauty and wonder in the face of overwhelming malaise. He makes conversations about ZZ Top, high school football, and grain prices engulfing. He does not pass judgment, and he realizes that discourse, no matter how trivial the subject, is what keeps us together and keeps us alive.