January 2015 Media Round-up (Books Pt. 1)


Downtown Owl, Chuck Klosterman


  • So this was the only Klosterman book that I hadn’t read yet, due to a) not being able to find it in a used bookstore until recently and b) not really giving a shit about the Midwest and more specifically life in a small town in the Midwest in the 80s. But obviously I love Klosterman’s writing style (although I think he would probably be totally unbearable as an acquaintance) and Downtown Owl was no exception. This was his first novel, and so he experiments with a lot of fun stylistic choices that deviate from the standard novel form and elevate material that is, as previously stated, not inherently interesting to this particular reader. A major weakness of the book is that all of the dialogue sounds like Klosterman’s idiosyncratic narrative voice, regardless of who is speaking; this doesn’t really detract from one’s enjoyment of the book (unless you’re really into ~authenticity~), though, and we can probably chalk this up to first novel syndrome. The more frustrating issue is THAT FUCKING ENDING WHAT THE FUCK (spoiler: after 200+ pages of nothing happening, 2/3 of the protagonists die in a sudden blizzard and I mean I guess there’s some foreshadowing but WHAT THE FUCK).

Select quote:

Winston is the main character in the book and Laidlaw loves this book, so Laidlaw must believe he and Winston are fundamentally the same person. That’s usually what makes people love any book: They believe the story they are reading is actually about them.

My Education, Susan Choi


  • Between this and Outlander, I’ve sort of realized that I have no interest in reading first-person narratives of romantic relationships. The courtship process is usually compelling1, but relationship issues (I said “I love you” but my partner didn’t and pretty much all of the variations on that type of insecurity) are maybe only interesting to people in relationships who can relate to that? And the particular all-consuming, angst-ridden relationship at the center of My Education is just like…the level of emotional pain seems disproportionate to the amount of enjoyment that both parties seem to be getting out of the affair, even if the sex is (apparently) mind-blowing. Which may be what Choi is going for, since, as the title implies, this is about the protagonist ~finding herself~ and so her immaturity/lack of perspective in her love life is kind of the point. But man, that is irritating to read.
  • Okay, right, but if you do enjoy relationship stories, My Education might be worthwhile? The whole nubile young student/unhappily married lit professor affair thing is so tired, but this does have the twist that it’s from the female student’s perspective and the affair is (mostly) with the lit professor’s wife. And there isn’t really any angst about identity politics, which may or may not be a good thing; this NY Times review interprets it as “Choi has taken seriously the sexual love between two women who see themselves as straight,” and I don’t think that’s correct2. For one, Martha mentions having had other female lovers and among her other insecurities, Regina worries about Martha hiring a young, attractive nanny. And Regina’s thought process prior to the affair just goes from I want to bang this professor → I want to bang this professor’s wife without questioning What Does it Mean to be a Woman Attracted to a Woman, which is honestly kind of refreshing? But no one says the “B word” because of course3.

Select quote:

In college, my interests had always seemed so clear, but in graduate school the unit of measure had switched abruptly, as if from the yard to the pica, and every effort I made to describe what my specialism was sounded dopily broad.

1. Which is why Jane Austen novels are great, because they end right at the resolution of the courtship. I mean, the amount of published Pride and Prejudice fan fiction shows that people do want to know about the mechanics of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, but wow, I do not. ^
2. But frankly most of that review reads like the author decided on her thesis for the review before actually reading the book and then just willfully misinterpreted the novel rather than change her thesis. ^
3. One could go into the whole Bisexual Erasure thing here, but…nah. Someone should do a study on the conditional probability of Not Being into Labels given being attracted to both men and women, though, because on TV it’s probably like 1. ^

(Gone Girl and The Foreign Student will be in Part 2, clearly.)


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