Well that was weird. I finally read a book I actually liked. Dare I say, loved? This is no small feat I can assure you. That bookmark down there is not only genuine but germane. It was given to me by an aunt who knows my reading quirks all too well. A fitting gift if there ever was.
I read a lot. Well, more than most. I enjoy it. I also find fault with everything I read. Even books I’ve made the effort to positively review here on my blog, I find fault with. If you were to engage me in conversation about any of them, I could easy gripe about half a dozen things in each. Ask my wife sometime for a synopsis of my ranting the moment I finish a book, even ones I liked. I think I derive a perverse pleasure in finding and lamenting these faults. In a way it’s like enjoying auto racing solely for the crashes.
The Faultless Book
I won’t suggest my judgmental habit is boast-worthy. It is simply my nature, for better or worse. I am now, however, confronted with a new experience. One I am ill-equipped to deal with. It is the rarest of the rare, the exception to prove the rule, the monster in my literary Loch Ness; a faultless book.
I must say I did not see this coming whatsoever. It’s not like I sat down to read War and Peace or some other universally worshipped piece of writing royalty. Nor did I delve into a critically accepted high watermark in a favourite author’s bibliography. In fact, I almost didn’t read this book at all and were it not for a frustrating quirk in our public library’s hold system I most likely wouldn’t have. Perhaps such limited expectations helped propel this book to unprecedented heights. Can a book be a Cinderella story?
I first became aware of Chuck Klosterman … hmmmm … I honestly don’t know where. It was undoubtedly online somewhere, either via somebody’s retweet or perhaps on Grantland. Regardless, he seemed witty enough based on the small sample I read so I ordered up a full suite of his published works from the library. I started by reading several of his essay collections; Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Eating the Dinosaur, and I Wear the Black Hat. While I liked them well enough, a few essays were deliciously funny while many others were bland, as a body of work I was mostly underwhelmed.
Embracing a three strikes and you’re out mentality, and about to embark on a major summer road trip with the family, I chose not to try any of Klosterman’s fiction and kind of just forgot about him. In the fall, as the calendar flipped from one month to the next, once again my ineptitude with the public library’s suspended holds system triggered a bulk influx of books to arrive for me all at once. Among this unanticipated barrage was Downtown Owl, a novel by Chuck Klosterman I had presumably decided not to read.
I am unsure why, but I decided to read it anyway. Sometimes a second chance at a first impression is a decent thing to grant someone. And, oh my god, am I ever glad that I did. Downtown Owl turned out to be a wonderful read. I literally read the last page, handed the book to my wife lying next to me, and said, “I actually liked this book.” My bookmark was no longer applicable. I was a changed man.
THIS is the book I wish I could write!
Considering my underwhelming reaction to Klosterman’s essay work, this novel and my enjoyment of it came as a shock. This, THIS, is the book I wish I could write. I kid you not. Every page of this book, the characters, the story, the language, the entire concept, everything is what I wish I could create.
The story is about a small, rural town in the North Dakota and football and high school and old farmers and bars and drinking and maybe even apple pie. It’s about life. It’s certainly American, but exchange football with hockey and the story easily becomes Canadian. And what makes the book so wonderful is that Chuck masterfully takes every stereotype of small town, rural folks, shines a glaring spotlight on them exposing each in all their unfortunately accurate hilarity, then deftly digs deep inside each character and reveals their genuine, sometimes painful and sometimes tender true selves. He humanizes these caricatures, giving them a depth and appeal that our biases and bigotry so often blinds us from seeing. He allows us to laugh at these people and then empathize with them, root for them and ultimately mourn them.
I absolutely, unequivocally give this book a full 5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. I’m genuinely afraid to read another Chuck Klosterman novel for fear that the afterglow of this experience will be dullened by a lesser book. Everyone should read this book. And if you grew up in a small town or a rural area I promise you will relate to so many characters in this book. Hell, one of them may even be you. Sometimes stupid computer systems do good things!