COLD STORAGE, ALASKAby John Straley
Soho (Feb 2014)
Edna Whelaby, while sitting on the examining table, had once told Miles that she couldn't keep a boyfriend in town because of "everybody's damn sex radar." Edna was eight-three years old at the time and between boyfriends. Miles had known her all his life so it was with some trepidation that he asked to explain "sex radar" and to his discomfort she was happy to oblige:
"Ah, Christ Mary on a crutch, Miles. Everybody in the coffee shop, everybody at the post office or the library can tell if you've been sleeping with somebody. They just know. It's like radar. It's the least little thing. Lipstick on when it usually isn't. Teasing somebody when you usually don't, not teasing somebody when you should. These are all the signs, Miles, and the people around here just have a sense for it, I swear. One night in the sack and there's hell to pay when you go for your next cup of coffee. There's not enough men around who can stand up to that kind of treatment," she complained. "I've been thinking of moving to Juneau."
Miles had been skeptical. He thought the old woman was just elaborating to show off her superior knowledge of life. But after he had been alarmed when his own sex radar started to kick in. He saw a woman flush at the mention of someone's name. He noticed a fisherman, who had always slapped his money and the check down on the counter, was handing them to the waitress instead. It wasn't just that he handed it to her, either, for that could be just his attempt to flirt. It was the way her fingers curled up quickly around the money in a furtive attempt to touch the tips of his fingers; it was how she leaned forward on the dairy case and smiled as he came in and would sometimes walk around the counter when he left.
I've been a fan of John Straley's work for a long time. His titles alone snagged my interest:
The Woman Who Married a Bear
The Curious Eat Themselves
The Music of What Happens
and the books always had a special place in my heart.
It's good to have him back on the front list. Thank you Soho Press!
Here's what knocked my sox off about this passage: the perfect details. It's the perfect, not the many, details that set a scene or convey character. It's clear the author has been watching people. Even if he never saw anyone do any of these exact things, they FEEL true. And with those details I am involved in the story so completely that it would take some sort of major clunker to break my attention. Of course, that didn't happen with this book. It's absolutely beautiful.
Did anything knock your sox off this week? Let me know in the comments column!