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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Curious Chuck Klosterman

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At the risk of sounding like a brainwashed acolyte of social networking sites, I recommend scrolling through the three pages' worth of Facebook groups devoted to Chuck Klosterman. Only then can you truly gauge the vehement emotions that the pop-culture critic is capable of arousing-which luckily for him veer mostly toward the positive, if slightly disturbing. For every one that dismisses him as an "overrated moron," five more want to have his baby or be spat on by him.

Critics, thankfully avoiding such barmy sentiments, have displayed a similar ambivalence toward Klosterman's literary output, though most agree he's among today's most important cultural commentators. While his 2004 essay collection Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs largely met with praise, works like 2006's A Decade of Curious People have enjoyed a more mixed reception. His latest book, Downtown Owl, provokes a rather unified critical response. While most savor the fact that Klosterman's debut novel allows the author to roam down variegated paths, many agree that his deadpan humor and cultural minutiae threaten to consume his story's plot.

The book is set in a fictional town in the author's native North Dakota, within the rather precise timeline of August 1983 to February 1984, perhaps to augment the effect of placing a magnifying glass upon small-town life in Middle America. The plot revolves around three denizens of Owl: a third-string high-school quarterback struggling with his ineptitude, a social studies teacher adrift in an aimless existence and a widowed and embittered septuagenarian.

In an interview with an e-zine, Klosterman stated that his aim was to "write about people who were depressed, but not depressed in any kind of cataclysmic way." You can meet with the author of this unique sentiment when he comes to Boswell Book Co. on June 25 at 7 p.m.

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