Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Galveston: A Novel / by Nic Pizzolatto

Born in New Orleans but raised in Lake Charles, Nic Pizzolatto first gained notice for his writing as a student at LSU and later at the University of Arkansas where his inherent talents soon won him a teaching fellowship. His 2006 short story collection Between Here and Yellow Sea was shortlisted for the National Magazine Award and this, his first novel, was a finalist for the 2010 Edgar prize. Currently Pizzolatto is a staff writer on the cable television show "The Killing" appearing on AMC and recently, according to his website, he's been in preliminary talks about a screenplay for Galveston.

At 40, Roy Cady gets the news that he's dying; not by accident--it's lung cancer--which he figures is a life of hard living caught up to him. It might be easier to take though if he didn't also have the sneaking suspicion that his boss, one of New Orleans most dangerous loan-sharks, is trying to murder him, suspicions proven true after a routine errand turns violent. Deciding he'd like to live at least a little longer, and wanting to die on his own terms, Roy escapes the scene of the crime with a jittery teenage prostitute and some petty cash, headed west for the Texas border and hopefully some reliable distance between he and his enemies. His intentions, one being to ditch the girl at his first opportunity and the other being to disappear into the scenery, don't turn out so well when the girl, an underager named Rocky, manages to hitch along for the ride and then tricks Roy into retrieving her kid sister in Orange. Now Roy, a rogue more comfortable on his own yet somehow bound to these two misbegotten individuals, must try to hide out in the one place he's always felt drawn to--Galveston. A coastal locale well past its prime where strangers are oddly welcome and scraggly drifters like Roy come in all sizes, the island is where the trio feel out a refuge amid the seedy motels, tattered saloons and tawdry seaside amusements. But this adventure holds more than meets the eye as soon some eerily familiar and startling revelations emerge, one of which will affect the lives of all three for years to come.

This is the kind of story a lot of people wish they could tell and the kind of book a lot of writers wish they could write. Galveston, a familiar locale, is also a familiar tale, a story evoking an oft-repeated scenario of flight, consequence and repercussions. Probably a bit too dim for a 'caper' novel, it's the kind of memorable crime noir fiction which readers will remember more for its somber truths than its catchy passages and colorful characters. It is at any rate a solidly thorough standalone novel, perhaps due to the fact that the characters are the type of real people, the real everyday folks, whom everyone sees but nobody really knows. Roy and Rocky are archetypes and yet their's is a world of mystery where some secrets, likely more than a few of them, can never reach the surface. In another way, maybe the book's not really about that. Perhaps it's not intended as a character-driven story but rather one connecting the power of memory to a particular time and place. For Galveston is in many ways an atmospheric novel, surviving off the mesmerizing, if at times mildly melodramatic, descriptions of 'place' and 'aura' acutely manifested by its author. Pizzolatto's gift for description, his incandescence and lucidity are clearly relevant and readers will find they may be seeing bits and pieces of themselves in the pages. (FIC PIZZOLATTO)

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