Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley

Cold Storage, Alaska Winter sets in long, cold, and lonely in Cold Storage, Alaska, but Straley sets us up with a comic narrative that takes most of the vinegar out of the population of “drunks and depressives” and sweetens it with romance. He introduces us to a fiercely independent and strangely cohesive group of folks who laugh (and make us laugh) in the face of adversity and who create the conditions for generosity of spirit. But not all is feasting on “King Salmon Every Day.” It continually astonishes me that characters in a fiction can make one feel actual sorrow and sadness, but we do in this one. Everything is going swimmingly and then something truly dreadful happens.

It is the year 2000 and Clive is thirty-five years old. He is being released from a seven-year prison stint in Seattle. After a brief detour to eat a fresh lettuce salad, Clive goes to collect his share of criminal proceeds from his pre-incarceration drug sales days. He is aiming for a small coastal town in Alaska where his brother, Miles, and his mother still reside.

Cold Storage is a failing fishing village of 150 residents on the outer coast of southeastern Alaska, originally settled by Norwegian fisherman who felt at home in the steep-sided fjord-like bay: “She’s hell for snug except when it’s coming straight down.” Some of my favorite passages in this novel come when Straley is describing the surrounding countryside, the changing quality of the water, the luminescent sky, the ragged rim of trees.

This novel is a little hard to characterize. It is not mystery, but it could be romance, though it is an unusual example of the genre. Falling in love is no more remarkable in Cold Storage than falling out of love. Both provide important entertainment to residents even when they themselves are not directly involved, except perhaps through the placing of bets on the timing of who is falling in or out of bed with whom...

No, this is a crime novel, though law enforcement is rarely in sight, and is the butt of jokes when it does come calling. This story is all about the ‘crims’ and their extended family of friends and partners in crime. We empathize with these oddball characters, many of whom act much as we have done (though we don’t wish to admit or recall), and all of whom change in the year or so since we meet them.

Straley claims in interviews “…I do not recognize revenge as the lifeblood of a great plot,” but he introduces a little revenge in this novel that upends his screwball comedy and changes lives forever. Straley then tells us his secret: “I still believe that love and compassion are what move through the hearts of all great characters.” And that’s exactly what we like about them.

This book was offered to me by Soho Crime in exchange for an honest review. You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

No comments:

Post a Comment