cover image Downtown Owl

Downtown Owl

Chuck Klosterman, . . Scribner, $24 (275pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-4418-0

Four books of nonfiction (Fargo Rock City ; Klosterman IV ; etc.) and a steady magazine presence have established Klosterman as a pop culture writer known for his air-quotes wit. There’s plenty of that sensibility in his first novel, and fans and detractors alike may be pleasantly surprised to find Klosterman delving beneath the quirky surfaces of Owl, N. Dak., the “overtly idyllic” but “paradoxically menacing” town that provides a perfect backdrop for the author’s sense of humor. (The time in which the novel takes place—1983, an era of Def Leppard and feathered hair—tickles the author’s love of the vapid.) The book shifts perspective among three Owl residents: Mitch, a smart teenager who’s “not clutch” on the football field or with girls; Julia, a teacher fresh out of college and discovering an affinity for booze and beaus; and Horace, a widower whose life revolves around coffee and bull sessions. Though no single narrative line binds the three—the event that ultimately unites them is a creaking deus ex machina—Klosterman creates a satisfying character study and strikes a perfect balance between the funny and the profound. (Sept.)