February 3, 2014
COLD STORAGE, ALASKA by John Straley
Wherever you think John Straley's newest novel will go, trust me on this: it won't. But where it does go is never less than delightful, turning the crime genre's tropes inside out. Straley writes in prose that is closer to poetry - but never pretentious and not strictly lyrical poetry. Call it prose with a poetic resonance. Cold Storage is populated with characters at once memorable, affable, pathetic, real, and sometimes maddening. No doubt there are readers who will draw parallels to the populace of Northern Exposure, though that show held little appeal for me as the quirkiness of its residents seemed to me to be more affectation for the sake of audience than that of three-dimensional characters. Quirky the people of Straley's Cold Storage may occasionally be, but they are never less than real, with their struggles, their dreams, their failures and modest successes, and their binding sense of community that lightly overlays their fierce if sometimes false self-reliance.
The author overtly yet subtly (how does he do that?) works varying religious viewpoints into a cohesive but elusive blend that both humbles and amuses the reader. While the overriding quality of this book is a rare kind of Zen charm, Straley is far too good a writer not to ensure that depth of setting (think Shangri-la without the humbuggery), character, and plot are all present and in abundance.
COLD STORAGE, ALASKA is a gem of story, marvelously told, that repays the reader many times over for the reading. Only February, I know, but this book will certainly be on my year-end favorites list.