20 March 2014

Lake Wobegon, Alaska

I was feeling a little flush. Probably a budgetary bad way to feel when I'm in a bookstore. It can contribute to deficit spending. So I bought a book.

As big as life on the new mysteries shelf was John Straley's Cold Storage, Alaska. I had good feelings about Straley's earlier books. Goes to show how I'd forgotten the most recent one, The Angels Will Not Care. I've read at least one other, but my written response is buried in the paper files of the old newsletter.

Well, whatever shortcomings I found in The Angels Will Not Care are forgiven.

I started reading Cold Storage, Alaska thinking it was a mystery. It was a reasonable assumption for most of the first half of the book. But about half way through the book, I realized that Straley wasn't writing a mystery, but he was writing a Garrison Keillor-like story of an Alaskan Lake Wobegon (or a seaside version of Cicily, Alaska from Northern Exposure). And he was doing a damn fine job.

Cold Storage is a tiny sea side village that once had a thriving fishing-based economy. Then freezing fish replaced canning fish and the village went into decline. But the story is really about the people who wash up in the backwater of the Alaskan coast. And Straley does a wonderful job of populating the town with natives, returnees, and haphazard immigrants. Like the Norwegian- and German-American residents of Lake Wobegon, the people in small town Alaska are interesting and attractive once you get to know them. And Straley creates characters who are easy to get to know.
Hoonah, Alaska (could be a prosperous version of Cold Storage)

There's Miles, the former army medic who is now the town's physician's assistant (even though there's no physician to assist). Miles' brother, Clive, returns to town with a pile of cash after serving a prison sentence for drug dealing. There is a group of cruise ship refugees who appear just as Clive is rehabbing the old family bar and in need of a house band. Ed and Tina are teachers in the Cold Storage school. Billy is an old fisherman who sets out in a kayak on a fund raising mission to meet the Dali Lama in Seattle and returns with Bonnie, the woman who rescued him when his kayak sank. There's the Alaskan state trooper who is anxious to bust Clive for returning to his old occupation and two of Clive's old criminal buddies who want the money Clive made off with.

If I compare Cold Storage, Alaska with the last of Keillor's novels I read, Pontoon, this is head and shoulders above what the Old Scout turned out.

I learned that this is one of two "Cold Storage" novels Straley has written. Somehow I missed the one about the parents of Miles and Clive, The Big Both Ways. Now, I get to find that book. I don't know if that will be as good as this, but I heartily recommend Cold Storage, Alaska.

Have you read Cold Storage, Alaska?  

Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

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