By Chuck Klosterman
Somewhere, in the imagination of Chuck Klosterman, there’s a pretend town called Owl where pop culture does not exist. A slight departure for Klosterman, who has written mainly non-fiction pieces about pop culture, Downtown Owl is the author’s first fiction novel.
Klosterman, who grew up in rural North Dakota, paints a bleak portrait of rural life in the mid-1980s. Owl is a town where everyone knows everything about one another, but the residents of the town don’t really know much about themselves. The narrative jumps between three Owl residents and recounts mainly their quest for distraction from the mundane.
Mitch, an average Owl high-school student and quarter back, channels most of his energy into plotting ways in which he can humiliate his English teacher and football coach, Mr. Laidlaw. Laidlaw not only attempts to humiliate Mitch at every opportunity but has impregnated countless girls who’ve attended Owl, something that only angers Mitch.
Julia, the newbie to Owl, has come straight from teacher’s college to teach at Owl High under the guidance of her father who tells Julia, “Don’t worry about what it all means.” In an attempt to stop worrying, Julia becomes a regular on the Downtown Owl bar circuit, drinking excessively and developing an obsession with an enigmatic bar-star consume.
And lastly, there’s Horace, an aging widower. He passes the time thinking about his dead wife and consuming massive amounts of coffee whilst discussing the frivolous “news stories” of Owl with his often-annoying peers.
The confessions of these Owl residents are charming, darkly hilarious and strangely familiar. Although these people are living life in a very specific place at a very specific time, their feelings transcend space and time. The problem—and perhaps what will attract long time fans of the pop culture guru to this book—is that it is a distinctly Chuck Klosterman novel. After a while, all of the voices become eerily similar. Mitch, Julia and Horace blend into the same person and ultimately conclude in the same fittingly nihilistic circumstance.
Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty
By Jeff Pearlman
The subtitle of Jeff Pearlman’s Boys Will Be Boys—“The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty”— sums up the book perfectly. It’s a deep examination of one of the most curious franchises in sports, a dysfunctional team famed for its wild parties and bad behavior that still managed to win three Super Bowls in four years.
What makes Pearlman’s book work is that it isn’t just sensationalism. Sure, there are plenty of hilarious stories about defensive end Charles Haley masturbating during team meetings, wide receiver Michael Irwin’s adventures with cocaine and hookers and head coach Barry Switzer’s drunken binges at the Super Bowl, but Pearlman always keeps the anecdotes within the larger picture of the team. The reader picks up a good deal of insight about the different personalities involved with the team, many of which at first seem cartoonish and over-the-top but turn out to be surprisingly deep and complex.
Pearlman also displays a willingness to go past the surface perception of the Cowboys, which is nice to see. Many writers would have used this project as an excuse to vent their outrage that such a crazy team still found so much success on the field; Pearlman goes deeper to investigate how the atmosphere really affected the team and if it might have helped. He also does well to keep the moralizing to a minimum. In an era where countless journalists are up in arms over Michael Phelps taking a bong hit, it’s refreshing to see reporting free of overbearing judgement.
The strongest feature of Boys Will Be Boys is the insight it provides into the dynamics of professional football. With today’s locker-room codes of silence and the growing divide between media and the pro athletes they cover, it’s rare to get this kind of a behind-the-scenes look. Pearlman clearly has some solid sources and makes good use of them to take his readers beyond the surface perception of the Cowboys. It’s an entertaining and enlightening trip.
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