Find your next favorite audiobook

Become a member today and listen free for 30 days
Downtown Owl: A Novel

Downtown Owl: A Novel


Downtown Owl: A Novel

ratings:
3.5/5 (26 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Released:
Sep 16, 2008
ISBN:
9780743573733
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description


New York Times Bestselling Author Chuck Kosterman's First Novel

Somewhere in North Dakota, there is a town called Owl that isn't there. Disco is over, but punk never happened. They don't have cable. They don't really have pop culture, unless you count grain prices and alcoholism. People work hard and then they die. They hate the government and impregnate teenage girls. But that's not nearly as awful as it sounds; in fact, sometimes it's perfect.

Mitch Hrlicka lives in Owl. He plays high school football and worries about his weirdness, or lack thereof. Julia Rabia just moved to Owl. She gets free booze and falls in love with a self-loathing bison farmer who listens to Goats Head Soup. Horace Jones has resided in Owl for seventy-three years. He consumes a lot of coffee, thinks about his dead wife, and understands the truth. They all know each other completely, except that they've never met.

Like a colder, Reagan-era version of The Last Picture Show fused with Friday Night Lights, Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl is the unpretentious, darkly comedic story of how it feels to exist in a community where rural mythology and violent reality are pretty much the same thing. Loaded with detail and unified by a (very real) blizzard, it's technically about certain people in a certain place at a certain time ... but it's really about a problem. And the problem is this: What does it mean to be a normal person? And there is no answer. But in Downtown Owl what matters more is how you ask the question.
Released:
Sep 16, 2008
ISBN:
9780743573733
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Chuck Klosterman is the bestselling author of many books of nonfiction (including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, I Wear the Black Hat, Fargo Rock City and Chuck Klosterman X) and two novels (Downtown Owl and The Visible Man). He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Guardian, The Believer, Billboard, The A.V. Club, and ESPN. Klosterman served as the Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine for three years, and was an original founder of the website Grantland with Bill Simmons.


Related to Downtown Owl


Reviews

What people think about Downtown Owl

3.7
26 ratings / 17 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Reviewed 3/15: A re-read, originally read 2/11. This is my pick for our book club this month. I really enjoyed the book the second time around, and even though I knew the semi-surprise ending was coming, nothing was ruined. The climax to that point was even better because I remembered what happened, but not exactly how. It’s a lot of story for a quick resolution, but I appreciate it because Klosterman eliminated several main characters, which isn’t something a lot of authors do.

    Originally read and reviewed 2/11: Though "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" had always caught my eye (what a title!) in the bookstore, I never read a Klosterman book until I picked up "Downtown Owl" at my local library. I flipped to the inside flap and was hooked.

    "Somewhere in North Dakota, there is a town called Owl that isn't there. Disco is over, but punk never happened. They don't have cable. They don't really have pop culture, unless you count grain prices and alcoholism. People work hard and then they die. They hate the government and impregnate teenage girls. But that's not nearly as awful as it sounds; in fact, sometimes it's perfect."

    The story is told from three main points of view: Mitch, a high school student, Julia, a high school teacher new to Owl, and Horace, a man who's lived in Owl his entire 73 years. Every so often, a secondary character will narrate a short chapter, but it really relies on the three main characters, and it really works being written this way. The characters are realistic and unique individuals. Even without the chapter "titles" indicating who was speaking, their personalities come through immediately.

    For at least 3/4ths of the story, I had no clue how the narrators fit together. (Besides Julia teaching at the high school Mitch attends, their paths never cross.) I didn't read a chapter and then say 'Oh, I know what's going to happen. He's going to twist it like this, and then this will happen.' I genuinely had no clue, even at the climax. That, I think, is super powerful. How amazing to have your reader totally in the dark, clueless about what will happen, but loving the story you're telling? Impressive work! There is no foreshadowing, there are no hints at what will happen. I literally had no idea what would make the story end. And, because of that, I technically had no idea why the story was being told - but it was enjoyable just the same. It was an easy read because once you start, you can't put it down. The chapters are so short and so intriguing you keep saying "Just one more, just one more!"

    One of my favorite passages follows. I love when authors get down something you've felt forever, and put it in these perfect words and you stop and say YES. THAT is what I've been feeling all this time.
    "Sometimes you think, Hey, maybe there's something else out there. But there really isn't. This is what being alive feels like, you know? The place doesn't matter. You just live."

    The ending, to me, was a total surprise. It's based on true events, so I suppose if you know your North Dakota history (the subject Julia teaches, it just so happens) you might have an idea what's coming. But if you don't, I don't advise you to look up the dates on Wikipedia. Just read it. You'll be shocked at the end, but it's one of the best endings I've ever read in a book. Not a hint of corniness, no deus ex machina - just perfection.
  • (4/5)
    My adult son was a big fan of Chuck Klosterman's Fargo: Rock City, so I thought I'd give his novel, DOWNTOWN OWL, a try. And it was a most enjoyable read. It's what I have to assume is a pretty accurate look at high school life in the early 80s (twenty-plus years after my time in those grungy halls). As far as Klosterman's take on small town life and how stultifying and soul-killing it can be, he nailed that hands down, with his portrayals of the old-timers' coffee klatsch in the local diner and the desperate drinking of younger adults in the several seedy downtown saloons. Not to mention the exaggerated importance of high school sports and the football coach with a weakness for sixteen year-old girls.And all the high school English classes are studying Orwell's 1984 as that year is rung in by the citizens of Owl, which gives the story some minor literary undertones, something the author weaves in well.The popular music of the era can almost be heard blasting in the backdrop of this narrative of tiny Owl, North Dakota, and the surprising and catastrophic conclusion could probably only ring true in that flat and desolate setting. Klosterman's dialogue and inner musings by his characters - teens and adults alike - range from moving to very dark to downright hilarious. Not a book for the squeamish, certainly. Highly recommended for the forty-something former headbanger crowd.- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
  • (3/5)
    It's okay, a little slice of life story, but it didn't have much oomph. It can't compare to his non-fiction, but it's still worth reading. If you like Tom Perotta or Jeffrey Eugenides and are looking for something similar this is a good book for you. I liked 2/3 of the end, it should have gone all the way.

    Edit: After a day of reflection I think it's better than I gave it credit for. He does some nice subtle inter-weaving that took some separation to see.
  • (4/5)
    I love Chuck Klosterman. I regularly read his articles in various publications (his stuff in Grantland is particularly good) and his non-fiction books. This is my first time reading his fiction (and, as it happens his first published fiction.) I truly enjoyed this look at small town life, its joys and its limitations. I also enjoyed befriending the town denizens through whom this story is told. This is a little like Northern Exposure in North Dakota. There are not many deep truths here, and the end feels contrived, but it is a fun read (about deeply depressed people) and the writing is delightful.I listened the audiobook, and heartily recommend it. The various readers are excellent and the story is well-suited to being read aloud
  • (4/5)
    It's not usually a hard question: "What are you reading about?" Most books helpfully even give you clues on the back cover, with a quick summation you can offer up. "The history of the original Dream Team in 1992." "Jonathan Franzen didn't feel like enough people were paying attention to him so he wrote the same book three times."

    When I got that this time, I hesitated. "It's about ... a small town in North Dakota, I guess?" Which is true, but it's not really about the town, it's about the people. And while that seems like the same thing, it's not. You're not reading the detailed history since its founding, you're getting a small snapshot of a few lives. The best description I could come up with was, "It's the story of a small North Dakota town in the 80s. The events that happen are fairly normal for a small town, or at least that would be, individually. Your average small town would have one or zero of these events happening. That four or five of them are happening is nonsense, but that's kind of immaterial."

    I am not a great person to be asking for book recommendations.

    The author, Chuck Klosterman, like him or love him, studies people. Profiling, describing and intuiting their reasons for existing, most of his authorial life revolved around trying to explain someone (or a group of someones).

    So you can understand why, when he's trying to set a scene, it's a bit like listening to a German opera — intellectually, you understand that it's probably very beautiful, but in the moment it sounds like large bears mating. And, given that the novel takes place in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota, it's not even a very interesting German opera (or ursine copulation, depending on where you were in the metaphor).

    The first third of the book is dull. A slog. I tell you this so you can prepare for it — gird yourself, lay in provisions, whatever you need to do to get through it. Because it's worth it. I've seen the other side, and it is sublime.

    Because Klosterman eventually gets around to what he does best — explaining people. These characters are so vivid their mood swings started affecting how I was doing in the real world. Their actions and reactions and emotions are authentic, to themselves and to human nature. Even the most unbelievable, freakish characters are eventually explained and vindicated, even if that explanation is completely batshit crazy.

    Explaining any of the plot seems simultaneously like cheating you and utterly pointless — without the connecting web, plucking at any individual strand leaves you wanting for the whole. It's raw, it's gritty, it's real, and it's definitely worth a read.
  • (3/5)
    This book left me not hating it, but not loving it either. Like everyone else notes, there are plenty of pop cultural references and parenthetical asides that every Chuck Klosterman fan recognize. But I feel like he could've done more with the characters and the ending seemed random.
  • (5/5)
    I'm really shocked to read some of the poor reviews. I read this book and loved it. Chuck uses a lot of pop culture references, but that apparently ruins the story for some of his critics. Personally, I think the references make him the writer he is and I enjoy his style. The guys that are railing on about the lack of plot are lost. If you can't discern the message of the book from the last article in the book, you've missed the whole point. It is a commentary on society and how people are valued and remembered. It would be a pretty boring world if every book and movie followed the same format. I enjoyed the format and I liked the ending.
  • (1/5)
    If I was still in high school (which thank god I'm not) I probably would have considered this book one of my favorites...because that's what I did with shitty sarcastic books about people living shitty lives. But I'm not in high school and this book blows. Here's what the book is about: people live in a small town, people are so bored in a small town that they do stupid meaningless shit, and then they die.
  • (4/5)
    This isn't the greatest novel ever written. It won't change anyone's life nor probably even be someone's favourite ever book. It probably isn't as good as a lot of Klosterman's non-fiction writing even. But, I still enjoyed it and sometimes an enjoyable read is enough.At times the pop culture references could be over-done and perhaps outside of John Hughes films, people don't talk in quite the way the people do here, but I still found the characters believable and sympathetic despite their flaws. Other criticism of the book has been that there isn't much to sustain it for a whole novel, but actually, I could have spent longer in the company of the residents of Owl.
  • (2/5)
    I was surprised to see a novel come out of Chuck Klosterman, I was very excited to see what he could do with it. I enjoyed the story about this very small town but it was a little slow moving for my taste, wonderfully written though.I do believe his non-fiction works encompass his sarcastic and facetious tones and that is what i enjoy from his works.
  • (5/5)
    I was flipping through Klosterman at Chapters when an employee came up behind me and started gushing about him. The bookseller compared Klosterman to Douglas Coupland—I was sold.Downtown Owl is a story about three people in a small town in 1983/84 North Dakota. Mitch is a high-school student who grew up there. Horace is a widower who is living out the end of his life discussing espionage in the bars. Julia is a teacher who moved to Owl to get her first job. The narrative is framed by weather: how the unpredictable can break into even the most mundane and scripted lives.This book is a masterpiece. Klosterman doesn't waste a single line—everything has meaning. I laid in bed for a few nights thinking about the various connections between the main characters and themes. It seemed like the deeper I went, the further the trail led.Another great element of this book is the way he used different types of lists to convey information. My particular favourite was the list of what all 22 students in Mr. Laidlaw's English class were thinking at 8:45 in the morning. It's as funny (and realistic) as you could imagine.There's a particular thrill in discovering an author you absolutely love. I've got four earlier books as well as one forthcoming to read before I've caught up with the Klosterman universe.Long live "small-town quirkiana" (The Boston Globe review from the cover of the Scribner paperback).
  • (5/5)
    Downtown Owl is the debut novel of non-fiction writer and essayist Chuck Klosterman. As I read primarily fiction, I was unfamiliar with Klosterman's prior work--which may have been a blessing. I came to this novel with no preconceived notions. And you know what? It's the most delightful debut I've read all year. I loved it! Downtown Owl is a character study, but rather than a close look at a single person, it's a study of a small town. Specifically, a study of Owl, North Dakota from August 1983 to February 1984. It's a close look at several citizens of Owl, such as Mitch, a high school student; Julia, a young teacher new to town; and Horace, an elderly widower and life-long resident. These characters and many others give slices of life that make up the whole of this insular community. And, oh my God is it funny! I listened to this novel as an unabridged audiobook. As a rule, I am not a huge fan of audiobooks, but I give `em a whirl every now and again. This has to be the best produced audiobook I've ever listened to. It was narrated by six different readers--one of them the author himself--and their wonderful performances added immeasurably to my enjoyment of the book. The line readings were priceless. A line as simple as "I love to drink" is flat on the page, but in actress Lily Rabe's hands had me in hysterics. On the bus. It was embarrassing. I could not keep from eruptions of laughter as I listened to this novel. Don't think just because it takes place in a small town that this story is cute or quaint. No, it's just very, very human. As others have noted, this is not a plot-driven novel, but that doesn't mean nothing happens. Small town life happens. The novel opens and closes with the same event, and yet I was still completely unprepared for the poignant ending. Klosterman has told this story with so much warmth and affection, I hope, I hope that he returns to Owl someday.
  • (4/5)
    There’s a new novel by Chuck Klosterman who as many of you know is one of my favorite writers. While his past 4 books were all non-fiction, this new book, called Downtown Owl, is a fiction novel that takes place in 1983 North Dakota.I think it’s a pretty good book and it definitely captured my attention. My big issue with the book is that it’s all description and details. There is very little interaction or plot. It’s a 300 page summary of a time and people in North Dakota with some interesting anecdotes. It’s funny, witty and well-written but it’s not necessarily a story.That said, it’s very Klosterman-ish and has some great elements. As usual he explores deeply the frivolous. There are entire chapters about a theoretical fight between a hulking giant of a boy named Grendal and a smaller, wrong-side of the tracks type kid name Cubby who loves to fight. With a typical Klostermanish metaphor, the scenario is more than just a “who would win” but a nice little metaphor for what you believe in the world. Do traits like physical appearance or genes win out in our world or will characteristics like desire and passion? Peolpe will lean different ways and that debate is by far the best part of the book.One thing i really like is how he sets up the small town feel. One character in high school relates Owl to the book 1984 - the Orwell book his class was assigned saying:“Everyone knew everything. So how was ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ a dystopia? It seemed ordinary. What was so unusual about everyone knowing all the same things?”“People always say that nothing changes in a small town, but — whenever they say that — they usually mean that nothing changes figuratively. The truth is that nothing changes literally: It’s always all the same people, doing all the same things.”Discussing the differnce between literal thoughts and figurative is something Chuck loves to do. He’s typically done it with popular culture but in Downtown Owl he does it with a 1980’s North Dakota town. And it makes for a pretty fun read
  • (3/5)
    Is there a term called a ‘place novel’? Because Chuck Klosterman’s Downtown Owl is surely a novel of place: that place being Owl, North Dakota. Of course there are people in this novel, and we learn about them, and even care about them (or some of them) as we are wont to do when we read a novel. But they are there strictly speaking to illuminate the place. Although Owl itself is a fictional town, there are many references to real people and events. Most notable of these is that of Gordon Kahl (see Rod Steiger as Gordoin Kahl, although I haven’t) . Kahl was an 80’s tax protester and involved in movements such as the Montana Freemen and the Posse Comitatus. Kahl was involved in high profile shootouts with the law in which several authorities were killed, including Kahl himself. The novel also ends with a “killer” blizzard in the upper-midwest (February 1984).Klosterman lets us hear the story of Owl and its people through their voices. These voices come at us in short alternating chapters. They are punchy, and quickly read. At 273 pages, if you had a leisurely day, you could almost read this in one sitting stories. The stories and the style are simple. But at the end of the book, the reader should feel a familiarity with the place, if not a soft spot for that way of life.There’s Mitch, a high school athlete of mediocre talent. And Julia, a newly arrived high school teacher who has taken her first job in the rural town. There’s Horace, a widower 0f many years, living al0ne in his farmhouse outside of town. These are the main three, although there are a few odd chapters with others. The other town inhabitants appear in these chapters through the eyes of the three main observers.Klosterman utilizes a few gimmicks that don’t necessarily work. The novel is set in 1984, and the high school class is given Orwell’s classic novel to read that year in English. One of the chapters are Mitch’s answers to a short test (and his ‘unwritten’ thoughts on the questions). Another has Julia in a bar pas-de-deux with a local man with whom she finds herself attracted - but she’s not sure of this. They stand out in the wrong way, and these same scenes might better have been handled in the style of the rest of the novel.The three main characters do not all survive the blizzard that ends the novel. The closing short chapters that deal with the blizzard and efforts at survival are some of the best writing in the book. To find out which character or characters survive and why…you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
  • (4/5)
    I didn’t even know who Chuck Klosterman was when I picked up this book, but after listening to just a few minutes of Downtown Owl, I had to check to see who he was and if he went to high school with me. He didn’t — as he’s from North Dakota — but Downtown Owl was so jarringly and surprisingly familiar to me that I had to make sure. Set in 1983 and 1984 in the cold, flat plains of fictional Owl, ND, this book captures small town plains life almost perfectly. At least it does for that time frame.The residents of Owl converse and care deeply about the weather, crops, the high school sports teams, the bars, and the fact that the local movie theatre is closing down. (Check, check, check, double check.) The day doesn’t seem complete if the farmers don’t get together and talk about all these important events over coffee every day. (Triple check.) And last but not least, the English teacher is having the high school classes read 1984 in 1984. (Quadruple check.) Klosterman could have been telling this story about my own hometown in the very year of 1984 when I, too, was reading 1984 as a high school sophomore. Eerily familiar, I tell you! Oh, and the music, too. All the popular music of the day gets a mention, and that was a nice blast from the past as well.The three main characters in the book are Mitch, a high school student on the football team; Julia, a young, brand new teacher who is the new celebrity in town; and Horace, a 70ish widower whose wife died of insomnia. I really don’t want to say too much about the characters because they each have their own unique voice and slant on living in Owl that is best experienced yourself. If you want to know more about them, read the book!The book does have quite a bit of bad language in it, one scene of animal cruelty that was graphically described, and an ending I wasn’t sure if I liked or not, BUT… I will definitely be looking into Klosterman’s next novel, particularly if it contains plains people in a plains town.
  • (4/5)
    This is a wry look at what it’s like to live in a small community that exists in a cultural vacuum in 1983. The only thing going for it is the high school football team and even they rest on their laurels from years gone by. Into this moribund environment the reader is introduced to Mitch, the not-so-great quarterback, Horace, a retiree who spends his days in a coffee shop and harbors dark secrets, Julie, a young school teacher who stretches the limits of the town’s only entertainment (local bars) and several other characters that contribute to the story.I enjoyed the writing style which was particularly adept at letting the reader stand to the side and watch events unfold. The narrative is told through the eyes of the three main characters as they go about living their lives. One gets the impression that they are not particularly happy and are waiting for something better to come along.This is a successful satire of small town life, the quirky characters and societal insecurities of an isolated community with plenty of small town eccentricities. I liked the newspaper excerpts at the beginning and end of the book – it lent a nuance of seeing the story from a distance.I could see this book assigned as reading to high school students. It might be a lesson in self-awareness, in a realization of how they may appear to outsiders, and they might enjoy the small irony of one of the characters being an English teacher who assigns novels to his class.All in all I would recommend this novel as a fascinating look at small town life as represented through different generational points of view.
  • (4/5)
    "Downtown Owl" is a first novel by the famous and extremely popular pop culture author about living in a paradoxically awful, yet perfect small town in Middle America in the early 1980s. It is a story told in three separate narratives: one follows Mitch, a mildly awkward teen who is struggling through typical teen problems (gossip, friends, and football). Another follows Julie recent college grad who moves to Owl from Milwaukee to become a history teacher in the high school with much fanfare in the town (her boss, upon meeting her, immediately states, “You will be popular. You will be very, very popular.”). The final one follows Horace, an elderly widower who lives to drink coffee, and chat corn prices and play dice with follow retirees.The story combines wit and thoughtfulness, and was a strong first novel, especially for an author who has spent so much time writing non-fiction. It was interesting to see Klosterman attempt to create art in a very different genre. I wonder what the "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" Klosterman would think of this title.