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First-Time Novelist Chuck Klosterman on ‘Downtown Owl,’ His Subpar Farming Ability, and His Adoring Fans

Edwin Cohen's The rain reveals the hidden names of flowers (2008).

Cultural critic and music writer Chuck Klosterman, who's already won a legion of fervent admirers with his nonfictional books Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, releases his first-ever novel today. Downtown Owl — which he'll be reading from tonight at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Union Square — tackles some familiar themes (music, death, pot, North Dakota) in typical Klostermanian fashion. Vulture spoke with Klosterman about his switch to fiction.

We obviously have to ask you, why fiction?
Well, you know, everybody keeps asking me that question. I've been asked that question twenty times now. I keep coming up with different answers. I don't know what the correct one is. Have you ever written a novel?

No.
Why not?

Uh … We don't know. We guess we haven't had an idea that could be as big as a novel. We haven't had the time. We don't have the fortitude.
Yeah, I guess my answer is the complete opposite of those.

Another question you probably keep getting: You grew up in North Dakota, and this book is set in North Dakota. How reflective is this book of your own experience?
Well, this book takes place when I was only 11. But I guess I placed it in a town that was like the town I came from so that I didn't get things obviously wrong. Whenever I read a novel, if there's a small detail wrong, that bothers me more than a large problem with the plot or characters. I thought, Well, I'm going to kind of create this town that at least I have a pretty vivid understanding of, and I'm going to set it at a time that predates my selfhood. I can remember 1983 pretty well. I remember the blizzard.

Is that where the idea came from?
That and the Gordon Kahl thing were the two real events that sort of became the bookends to the book. The bookends to the novel, I guess. The bookends to the book sounds idiotic. That's a small bookshelf.

I wanted to write about people who were depressed, but not depressed for any kind of specific cataclysmic reason. I mean the high-school kid is kind of abstractly depressed, which I think is what a lot of people feel like. It's not like they have anything bad about their lives. And if you were to ask them if they were depressed, they'd probably say no.
I also liked the idea of writing about this time, a time that's kind of been lost to people. I guess it's 25 years ago, but it seems a lot more distant than that. Just technologically, so much has changed, 1983 seems like 1883.

Was there ever any temptation or pressure for you to stay in North Dakota and be a farmer like your father?
No, I was terrible at farming. I was really lucky I was terrible at it, because I'm kind of an obsessive person. If I'd really liked farming, I'm sure I would have become obsessed with it and that's what I'd be doing now. So, it's 9:40 a.m. here. It's 8:40 a.m. in North Dakota, and I'd probably be up for two fucking hours already. So I'm really glad it didn't happen.

Have you heard about the Facebook groups in your honor?
People tell me about them all the time. Especially the one where people want me to spit on them.

Yeah, "If Chuck Klosterman spit in my face I'd stop taking showers." It has 853 members.
Sometimes after a book reading, someone will come up and say they're part of that group, and part of me always does think, What if I spit on you right now? You're gonna have to act like you love it.

Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster