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Downtown Owl

Downtown Owl

A Novel

  • reading group guide
New York Times bestselling author and “oneofAmerica’stop cultural critics” (Entertainment Weekly) Chuck Klosterman’s debut novel brilliantly captures the charm and dread of small town life—now available in trade paperback. Somewhere in rural North Dakota, there is a fictional town called Owl. They don’t have cable. They don’t really have pop culture, but they do have grain prices and alcoholism. People work hard and then they die. But that’s not nearly as awful as it sounds; in fact, sometimes it’s perfect. Mitch Hrlicka lives in Owl. He plays high school football and worries about his weirdness, or lack thereof. Julia Rabia just moved to Owl. A history teacher, she gets free booze and falls in love with a self-loathing bison farmer. Widower and local conversationalist Horace Jones has resided in Owl for seventy-three years. They all know each other completely, except that they’ve never met. But when a deadly blizzard— based on an actual storm that occurred in 1984—hits the area, their lives are derailed in unex- pected and powerful ways. An unpretentious, darkly comedic story of how it feels to exist in a community where local mythology and violent reality are pretty much the same thing, Downtown Owl is “a satisfying character study and strikes a perfect balance between the funny and the pro- found” (Publishers Weekly).
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  • Scribner | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416544197 | 
  • June 2009
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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. Downtown Owl is told primarily from the three different perspectives of Mitch, Julia, and Horace. With whom did you most closely identify? Although these three dominate the book, why do you think the author also devoted short chapters to both Mr. Laidlaw and Cubby Candy's points of view?
2. While presenting his class syllabus, Laidlaw explains that, "'The central issue in Nineteen Eighty-Four is personal privacy.'" Via Mitch's perspective, we also discover that Laidlaw sees personal privacy "'as the main issue in many novels.'" Why is Laidlaw preoccupied with personal privacy? In what way is this incongruous? How does the town react to Laidlaw's transgressions?
3. Julia quickly discovers that nearly every town resident has a nickname. In Owl, "If you met ten people, you had to remember twenty". Why does Julia think the Owl nicknames are particularly odd? Why do you think nicknames are featured so heavily in this novel? What do they imply about small town life?
4. Sprinkled throughout the novel are numbered and bulleted lists. One passage of dialogue translates Julia and Vance Druid's contrived speech into their genuine thoughts. Mitch's English exam is featured as an entire chapter. What role do these non-traditional narrative formats play?
5. Julia is devastated when she discovers the tortured cat outside of her apartment. Why did she go back to bed when she overheard the violence occurring see more

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About the Author

Chuck Klosterman
Photo by Kris Drake

Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is the New York Times bestselling author of seven previous books, including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Eating the Dinosaur; Killing Yourself to Live; and The Visible Man. His debut book, Fargo Rock City, was the winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. He has written for GQ, Esquire, Spin, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Believer, and The Onion A.V. Club. He currently serves as “The Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine and writes about sports and popular culture for ESPN.

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