What Is Time to a Pig?

What Is Time to a Pig?

by John Straley

Narrated by T. Ryder Smith

Unabridged — 7 hours, 44 minutes

John Straley
What Is Time to a Pig?

What Is Time to a Pig?

by John Straley

Narrated by T. Ryder Smith

Unabridged — 7 hours, 44 minutes

John Straley

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From the wild and wonderful mind of Shamus Award-winning author John Straley comes a poetic masterpiece that explores the ugly truths of the prison industrial complex, the crumbling state of humanity, the role memory plays in the formation of the self, and much more.

It's been seven years since Gloomy Knob landed in the Ted Stevens High-Security Federal Penitentiary and five years since the end of the war, the one North Korea started when they sent a missile to Cold Storage, Alaska. Serving a life sentence for the murder of his sister, Gloomy spends his time trying to forget about the past.

Then one day, Gloomy is snatched from his off-site work station. Instead of celebrating his newfound freedom, Gloomy comes unmoored—he feels he belongs in prison. But his kidnappers believe Gloomy knows where a second nuclear warhead is hidden and demand to know where it is. The clock is ticking, and Gloomy knows he needs to find the missing warhead fast, or his wife, his friends, and the entire town of Cold Storage will be obliterated. The only problem is he has no idea where it is.

As Gloomy struggles to escape, the memories he fought hard to repress begin to creep out from the strange corners of his mind, first in rivulets, then in waves. In a drug-induced haze, Gloomy makes a discovery that may just bring him the closure he desires—if it doesn't kill him first.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Set in 2027, Straley’s delightfully absurd third Cold Storage novel (after 2014’s Cold Storage, Alaska) takes place five years after the end of a brief war in which a poorly aimed missile fired by the North Koreans dropped unexploded warheads around southeastern Alaska. None of this means much to Gloomy Knob, who’s been incarcerated for seven years in a prison near the town of Cold Storage for his sister’s murder, until some well-meaning folks snatch him from an off-site work detail in the mistaken belief that he can locate an unaccounted for nuclear warhead. Though Gloomy is willing to help save Cold Storage and its inhabitants, including his wife, there’s one minor problem: he has no idea where the bomb is. Unhinged by his newfound freedom, Gloomy is nearly as unstable as the warhead he has been sprung to find. Desperate to return to prison to continue his sentence, Gloomy begins remembering too much for his own good—and the good of others. Straley upturns the Alaskan landscape like Carl Hiassen flipped Florida with wildly imaginative stories and droll characters. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

Praise for What Is Time to a Pig?

“John Straley is an incredible writer with a scary imagination.”
Dayton Daily News

“Straley has brought together what are clearly social and political issues he cares deeply about—even as he lampoons them . . . John Straley takes us on a wild ride, but with the reins held firmly in his able hands.”
Anchorage Daily News

“A big, bold, new departure . . . Straley wanders into Michael Chabon territory with a bit of alt-historical chaos, takes a detour to the edge of dystopian sci-fi, and goes right back to a realism that is more real than the grittiest of noir writing . . . a fitting book for these stranger-than-fiction times.”
Daily Sitka Sentinel

“The hallucinatory narrative style matches our confused era . . . The reader willing to go along with the unconventional narration will be rewarded by sharp commentary on our times and equal parts poetry and offbeat humor.”
Reviewing the Evidence

“John Straley creates a maddeningly insane but wholly convincing universe that fires powerfully on the level of plot. But What Is Time to a Pig? does much more. It manages to skillfully ask questions about the nature of reality, memory, and dreams while speculating on what may become of our addiction to incarcerating our fellow brothers and sisters. The result is the best kind of intellectual head trip.”
—Sergio de la Pava, author of A Naked Singularity and Lost Empress

“John Straley is a masterful storyteller, and one of America’s finest novelists. In What Is Time to a Pig? Straley captures an American society of dysfunction and a corrections system run amok, a not so distant future that we can only hope we never see. Straley delivers humor and heart with a hard punch to the gut. His quirky characters live and breathe on the page with such life and force you feel like you’re in the room with them. I can’t answer the question of What is time to pig?—but I can say the time I spent devouring Straley’s new Cold Storage novel was the best reading experience I’ve had all year.”
—Don Rearden, author of the Washington Post notable novel The Raven’s Gift

“This is one of those books where the writing is so dazzling the story almost doesn’t matter, but the story is wonderful too: a satirical 21st century thriller that’s both a page-turner and the frame for a much deeper contemplation. Straley’s prose is achingly perceptive, cinematically vivid and just pure pleasure to read.”
—Scott Hawkins, author of The Library at Mount Char

“When a master writer like John Straley comes at you with a book as funny, biting, intelligent, gritty, and propulsive as What Is Time to a Pig?, you can’t help but sit up and take notice. Upon a foundation of nuclear proliferation, the Ghost Dance movement, the history and future of Alaska, and the philosophical ramifications of individual freedom, Straley has built a narrative as absurd as anything in today's news cycle, and all told in his signature voice: warm, inviting, sharp, witty, and impossible to turn away from.”
—Christian Kiefer, author of Phantoms

What Is Time to a Pig? represents a giant leap of imagination for John Straley. This is what happens when a poet writes a mystery. The sweet, the gruesome, and the macabre are rendered with hypnotic, uncommon clarity. Straley beckons and I eagerly follow him on what Emerson called ‘the stairway of surprise.’”
—Alfredo Véa, author of Gods Go Begging

“John Straley takes readers on another dangerous journey full of mystery and deception. Along with old friends and new acquaintances, we travel to places as familiar as Cold Storage, Alaska, and places as unfamiliar as our strangest dreams. With trademark wit, Straley employs first-class storytelling skills, leading readers from What will happen next? to What is happening right now? Readers who follow Straley’s intriguing characters find themselves contemplating deep human concerns: personal faith, an uncaring justice system, eroticism, politics, torture, nuclear war, repressed memory, and forgiveness. In What Is Time to a Pig?, Straley once again uses expert and provocative storytelling techniques to raise thought-provoking questions. A great read that will gain even more fans of this truly Alaskan writer.”
—Ernestine Hayes, author of The Tao of Raven

“Delightfully absurd . . . Straley upturns the Alaskan landscape like Carl Hiassen flipped Florida with wildly imaginative stories and droll characters.” 
Publishers Weekly

“A sometimes uneasy mix of humor and suspense, the novel features some lively and eccentric characters, some wild plotting, and some very entertaining—if not entirely realistic—dialogue . . . the author’s fans will recognize the same eye for character detail and the same fluid writing style.” 

“If Tim Dorsey lived in Cold Storage, Alaska, he might come up with something as outlandish, as off the wall as John Straley can. Let go of your reality, sit back for a wild futuristic ride. Gloomy Knob has been kidnapped from the private high-security prison. Iranians and the US government are among those desperate to find a misfired North Korean warhead, and violence plus physical and psychological manipulations tactics will be used to make Gloomy talk. They all think he knows where it is and are getting desperate. What Is Time To A Pig? makes sense in a Straley kind of way and is thoroughly entertaining.”
—Becky Milner, Vintage Books (Vancouver, WA)

Praise for Cold Storage, Alaska

A Boston Globe Best Crime Book of the Year

"Straley strikes the perfect balance of humor and pathos in this story about the McCahon brothers.”
—New York Times Book Review

"[Straley] writes crime novels populated by perpetrators whose hearts are filled with more poetry than evil."
The Wall Street Journal

"Straley isn’t prolific, but when he does publish a book it’s a gem . . . The crime aspect of Cold Storage, Alaska is pretty casual. Straley’s mostly interested in his characters and how they interact on a personal level . . . It’s always a pleasure to read Straley’s vivid studies of these folks—the slightly cracked, rugged and very funny characters of the Far North."
The Seattle Times

“Thoroughly enjoyable and slightly wacko . . . Dashes of magical realism mixed with ironic humor reminiscent of the Coen brothers and violence worthy of Quentin Tarantino make this second series novel a winner. Compelling characters and deft treatment of themes like redemption and the power of community take it to a level beyond.”
—The Boston Globe

“Lesser writers look to their characters’ poor choices and attempts to rectify them, John Straley loves his characters for just those choices. Hölderlin wrote: 'Poetically man dwells on the earth.' Some of us wind up in limericks, some in heroic couplets. But damned near every one of us, sooner or later, ends up in one of Straley’s wise, wayward, wonderfully unhinged novels.”
James Sallis, author of Drive and the Lew Griffin mysteries

“What a warm, engaging, profoundly human book this is: its skin crackling, its heart enormous and open. It's a mystery with judicious blasts of violence and dread, but it opens also onto the bigger mysteries—of community, of family, of place. The several lives that intertwine throughout the story reach moments of quiet grace that resonate stealthily but deeply.”
John Darnielle, lead singer of The Mountain Goats and author of Wolf in White Van

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177336787
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Series: Cold Storage , #3
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
It might be easier to understand this story from the point of view of the mouse, for her motivations are simple: fear, hunger, procreation, and survival: living in the now as a Buddhist might understand it. But for us, the Western Homo sapiens who have grown past the mysteries of peek-a-boo magic tricks and object impermanence, the flow of time becomes a complicating factor. Besides, the mouse died few days from when we left her, tragically for her, but not for the human beings in this story, most of whom experienced life as a kind of hallucination, unstuck from traditional time as a result of being kept in cages where nothing happened according to their own will.
It was seven years after the US president’s war with North Korea, and the whole world had gone a little crazy. It was as if all the bottled-up frustration of the administration, the repressed class hatred and racism, the fear of the Other, and the unquenched greed had started to spray from sprinkler systems in every office, every classroom, every store, and every network in the country: icy water raining down through high-pressure rubber tubes onto everything and everyone. All bets were off, and the future was chaos. At least that’s how it seemed.

The fizzled North Korean missile was nothing more than a bundle of sparklers that sprinkled warheads over a small section of southeastern Alaska. The warheads had apparently been meant for Valdez, Prudhoe Bay, and down into Wyoming and Colorado. The North Koreans had thought to contaminate most of America’s oil supplies to frighten US leaders to the negotiating table, but what really happened was a mad rush by military and terrorist groups from around the globe to gather the missing nukes, while the rest of the world watched the US Army and subcontractors liberate the hungry North Koreans. First came fire and destruction, then a river of American food: MREs and then fatty grain-fed beef, along with televisions playing dubbed American films over steam tables laden with limp yellowy pork chops, grease-limp cheeseburgers, and boiled cabbage with brisket—all under the watchful eye of white men with black guns and sunglasses.
     But none of that mattered to the men serving time out on the island where the Ted Stevens High-Security Federal Penitentiary had been built. “Olympus,” as it was known to its full-time inhabitants, or T.S.H.S.F.P. on their paperwork. The employees, who rotated on- and off-site, called it “Tough Shit.” Whatever you decided to call it, it was a concrete facility built on a rocky outcropping off the coast of Yakobi Island. The nearest civilian town was Cold Storage, Alaska. Now it was 17:30, October 31, 2027, almost five years after the final peace accord with China/North Korea and the end of hostilities. The world was still in a frenzy of nervous breast beating and anxiety about dodging the bullet of nuclear annihilation. The United States had somehow balanced its trade deficit with Asia, there was no more Republican Party but a new Democratic Business Party and the Constitutionalist Party of the American Nation. The evening meal had been served in the Red and Blue Units, and the White Unit was just finishing up its Sobriety, Substance, and Spirituality class in the cooldown space, which had thick windows overlooking the North Pacific and was plumbed with pipes to flood the room with either salt water from the surrounding ocean or imported military gas.
     Gloomy Knob was the speaker on this day. Gloomy, of course, wasn’t his real name, but the name given to him as a boy by the community. Gloomy Knob had grown up in Cold Storage and had graduated from the local high school. He had earned money working in the woods cutting trees and working on machinery in Alaska, Washington, and Idaho. He had been living at home and building a cabin when he was arrested; he had been building a new life—or so he thought.
     He was one of only two inmates who were locals. He and Ishmael Muhammad were the only two prisoners from Cold Storage held on Olympus. Gloomy had been given his nickname—and, really, the only name he used—for a cliff face in Glacier Bay he had liked to visit as a boy. Gloomy Knob was a bluff where to this day mountain goats loved to climb up and down from tidewater all the way to the alpine willows. It was a place where Tlingit elders went to gather goat hair that had sloughed onto the willow branches. Gloomy’s father, Clive, had taken him there, and his mother had shown him how the old people would make yarn and small panels of rough cloth that they eventually stitched together into a blanket. Clive had run a bar that also served as a small nondenominational and eclectic church in the tiny village of Cold Storage, which was how Gloomy Knob had become the unofficial nondenominational “pastor” of the clearly non-Christian and non-Islamic Sobriety, Substance, and Spirituality discussion group at Ted Stevens High-Security Federal Penitentiary, even though he abhorred most public speaking. Yes, Gloomy had become a preacher in jail.
     “Gentlemen,” Gloomy began, “I will start today as I often do, with a story.”
     The men groaned. They sat on shiny steep pillars that had emerged from the floor and were immovable. Tables and a lectern could also rise through the steel-plated concrete floor by hydraulic force when needed, but nothing could be moved or thrown. Twenty-eight men in lime-green jumpsuits sat on pillars. Some wore tight-fitting skullcaps, some had shaved heads. Some had vivid tattoos, while some conspicuously did not.
     “So,” Gloomy continued despite protests, “a farmer was in his orchard with his pig, as a city slicker was driving by in his sports car, clearly in a hurry.”
     “I got this already. The pig is a filthy beast. It represents the fallen sinner. The farmer is your false prophet, Jesus,” a man with a beard called out as others nodded.
     “Gentlemen, please . . .” Gloomy raised his hands, palms up. “In some stories, a man is just a farmer and a pig is just a pig. Please . . .” And the grunting subsided.
     “So, as the city slicker is driving by, the farmer lifts up the pig to the apple tree and lets the pig feed on an apple. The pig chews away on the nice big apple, and the farmer sets him back down. Then as the car gets closer, the farmer does it again, and the city slicker sees that this is a big fat pig, and the farmer is straining a lot to lift the animal up. The city slicker slams on the brakes and grinds to a stop, then jumps out of the sports car and walks over to the farmer.”
     “What did he say?” a black inmate said unself-consciously.
     “I will tell you, sir.” And Gloomy walks toward the inmates, a row of cameras in the ceiling following his  every move.
     “The city slicker says, ‘I was watching you, mister, and I think it would be much easier if you tried something else, Mr. Farmer.’”
     “I’m sure he did!”
     Now the black inmates were laughing.
     “Thank you for the encouragement,” said Gloomy Knob, pausing to look each and every one of them gathered there in that antiseptic holding facility in the eye. “Then the farmer lifts that pig up again, straining every muscle. The pig eats another sweet and delicious apple, then the farmer sets the pig back down. The city slicker says, ‘I think if you were to climb up in the tree and shake all the limbs and knock the apples down on the ground, the pig could just eat the apples off the ground. It would be a lot easier for you and the pig, and it would save a lot of time.’”
     “What he say, Gloomy? What the farmer say?” And Gloomy Knob held up both his hands again and said, “That farmer walked over to that city slicker as his fine sports car was idling like a purring cat by the side of the road, and said, ‘Well, yes, sir, I suppose you are right, but what is time to a pig?’” And here the gathering resorted to a respectful and knowing laugh, and they rocked back and forth on their uncomfortable perches.
     After Gloomy’s father’s generation, everyone in Cold Storage went by nicknames. Gloomy Knob took his name into prison. Gloomy Knob was convicted of murdering his sister and kidnapping his mother. His sister was called NoNo. His mother was called Nix. His cousin had taken the name Ishmael Muhammad, but he was known as “Itchy” to his family. They had both been convicted for involvement in the kidnapping of Gloomy’s mother, who had long ago been a bass player in a cruise-ship band and had married into the bar, but neither of them felt guilty for the kidnapping. Someone else had taken Nix and buried her in a box in a tideflat with a breathing tube to motivate both the boys. They never counted that as a charge against them, even though the government had added it onto their sentence. Gloomy didn’t talk about the past much due to his grief and guilt over NoNo’s death, and Ishmael never spoke up, apparently for ideological reasons. At the time, Ishmael had deep religious beliefs to explain his actions. In prison, each prisoner had to discover his own particular way of doing time.
     In the last few months, Gloomy hadn’t seen his cousin in the prison, and his memory had become a stuttering and chaotic dream that interrupted his waking life. Gloomy could look at a clock and then look again and have lost hours while visiting some other time in his life, which gave him great anxiety as to how time was actually passing. Hence the pig joke. What interested him most was why many of the other inmates found the odd joke funny.
Nix kept replaying the events in her mind. She didn’t see the men who took her. She had been walking down the gravel lane and it was suddenly dark. She twisted inside a scratchy bag for several moments and then everything was gone; there was no struggle, no scratchiness, and no sounds of boots running down the gravel lane.
     Sometime later, she awoke in darkness so pure that she couldn’t be certain her eyes were even open. Her arms were pinned to her side, and as she twisted her torso, she could feel the rough surface of the wooden box she had been buried in. She kicked her feet and heard dirt shifting down around her head. Her breath came back against her face as she struggled. The smell of peanut butter from her sandwich at lunch mingled with the yeasty scent of the wet rocky sand that had been heaped on top of her.
     She banged her head against the surface of the box, and her forehead butted against the end of a pipe. Cool air came down the pipe, and she could hear the shooshing sound of waves breaking on a beach. Somewhere in the dark was the barking call of a raven. A drop of water dripped down the pipe and landed on her lips.
     “Our Father, who art in heaven—” she began.
     Then a voice interrupted her. She didn’t recognize the voice. It was a distant hiss that seemed to be riding down the air through the pipe.
     “Hush,” the voice said.
     “Help me. Please help me out of here,” Nix said.
     “Hush . . .” the voice wheezed again. “I will . . .”
     “Why am I in here? When will you let me out? I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She felt her tears track down her cheek and get cradled in the folds of her ears.
     “Don’t ask questions,” the voice said soothingly. “There is only one answer worth knowing.”
     “What?” she said, stammering. Her heart was beating inside her chest as if it were kicking to get out. “What is it? Please, what is it?”
     “Close your eyes.” The voice came all around her body. She could still hear waves breaking. She kicked against the box, shaking dirt down the sides.
     “In a few moments you will know the answer,” the voice said.
     The darkness sat on her, and the smell of the earth filled her nose and mouth. A fat drop of water landed on her open eye.

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