Book Review: Downtown Owl

Downtown Owl CoverDowntown Owl is a book by Chuck Klosterman set in the fictional town of Owl, N.D.  When I moved to North Dakota last year my friend Brad said, “You need to read Downtown Owl.”

Months went by and I was back in Nebraska for a Saturday night when Brad reminded me again on one of our Omaha drives, “You need to read Downtown Owl.”

Of course I gave him the, “Oh yeah, you said that before. Yeah, I’ll definitely check it out man.”

On Friday, December 23rd I was back in Nebraska for the holidays. I had already finished up one Christmas the night before with the my brother and his girlfriend. Friday was my off day before getting back into the season of Christmas the next night at my Grandma Baker’s and the next day with my sister’s family. Brad was back “in the creek” so we decided to meet up and see how life had been going.

Like a couple of 90 year old men, we drove around looking at Christmas lights in small towns be mesmerized by the lack of lights or the overabundance of lights on any given block. There was also a lot of confusion as we crept past one house who had baby Jesus in a manger being overlooked by Santa Claus and Rudolph. (Go back and read that sentence one more time, and think about it for a second.)

We eventually went through Columbus and hit the downtown area. Much to our surprise, it was booming. Apparently everyone else who came back to the area for Christmas already needed a break from their family too. We drove around and saw plenty of signs of activity in all the bars and a couple places there were people even standing outside.  Brad laughed and shook his head.

“You still haven’t read Downtown Owl yet, have you?

I didn’t really understand why he wanted me to read this book or what the significance of it was on this moment in time. Yeah I knew it was about a fictional town in N.D. and how several lives in that small town were semi-intertwined prior to a catastrophic event. Afterall, google exists and I knew the basics. But what was the big deal?

So the next morning I got on my laptop, went to Amazon and downloaded the book on my Kindle reader, along with the audio book for my drive.

I finished Downtown Owl in less than a week, which is some sort of record for me. There are times where I feel like the linebacker character Mack in the movie “The Program.”

“Fuck you dough boy I can read. See that shoe? Says Adidas.”

I just mostly make excuses for not reading. Binge watching Netflix requires no real level of operation from my brain. I can throw on a program, mess around on my computer and text. Kinda like I’m doing as I write this blog. . .

I “read” everyday at work and check out several newspapers online. So I “read” but not in the sense that I should “read”.

Brad was right and you need to take his advice. “You need to read Downtown Owl.”

The book was published in 2008 and after reading it I’m extremely surprised that it wasn’t more well received nationally than it was. Most of the ratings give it 3/5 or 4/5 stars but the reviews of the book complain that the authors voice got too much in the way of the characters.

I’d disagree. When I read this book, I felt like I had lived in Owl, N.D. with these people. It feels like every small town and reminds me of a lot of my own interactions growing up or being in and out of small towns. I now understand Brad’s laugh as we drove past bars in small town Nebraska.

The plot of the book focuses around several residents of Owl but mostly on the lives of:

  • Mitch, a high school student who questions a lot of things about Owl and often dreams of the ways he will murder his high school football coach.
  • Julia, a newly hired teacher who moved from Wisconsin after college to start her new job. She’s now the “new girl” in a small town and becomes quite popular.
  • Horace, an older man in the town whose wife has died and his life now revolves around afternoon coffee and a lot of regret.

If there is a central theme of the book, it’s probably that: Regret. Every character speaks multiple times in the book about their own regrets in their life while weaving these thoughts around small town football games, the local coffee shop and the bars of downtown Owl.

Klosterman does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of Everywhere, America. If you have ever spent time in a small town, you will definitely understand this book and love it. I honestly feel like someone from a large city would read this book, enjoy it but not really get the message or the stories in the book. I guess I’m glad I grew up where I did because there are parts of the book where I could literally take out characters names and replace them with people I have met through the years.

This was a great book and now I’m looking into more by Klosterman that I hadn’t considered before. Maybe in 2017, I’ll up the ante to reading three books instead of the two I did this year. . .but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Take Brad’s advice, “You need to read Downtown Owl.”



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